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Background: Stigma, poverty, and lack of knowledge present barriers to the diagnosis and treatment of chronic infection, especially in resource-limited settings. Chronic Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is frequently asymptomatic, but accounts for a substantial long-term burden of morbidity and mortality. In order to improve the success of diagnostic, treatment and preventive strategies, it is important to recognise, investigate and tackle stigma. We set out to assimilate evidence for the nature and impact of stigma associated with HBV infection, and to suggest ways to tackle this challenge. Methods: We carried out a literature search in PubMed using the search terms 'hepatitis B', 'stigma' to identify relevant papers published between 2007 and 2017 (inclusive), with a particular focus on Africa. Results: We identified a total of 32 articles, of which only two studies were conducted in Africa. Lack of knowledge of HBV was consistently identified, and in some settings there was no local word to describe HBV infection. There were misconceptions about HBV infection, transmission and treatment. Healthcare workers provided inaccurate information to individuals diagnosed with HBV, and poor understanding resulted in lack of preventive measures. Stigma negatively impacted on help-seeking, screening, disclosure, prevention of transmission, and adherence to treatment, and had potential negative impacts on mental health, wellbeing, employment and relationships. Conclusion: Stigma is a potentially major barrier to the successful implementation of preventive, diagnostic and treatment strategies for HBV infection, and yet we highlight a 'blind spot', representing a lack of data and limited recognition of this challenge. There is a need for more research in this area, to identify and evaluate interventions that can be used effectively to tackle stigma, and to inform collaborative efforts between patients, clinical services, policy makers, traditional healers, religious leaders, charity organisations and support groups.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome open research

Publication Date





Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3SY, UK.