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Doctor: Tibet's Hepatitis B Infection Rates Soaring

FILE - Liu Haocheng, five years old, receives Hepatitis A vaccine at the People's Hospital of Sixian county, China's Anhui province, June 28, 2005.
An ethnic Tibetan doctor working in Nepal says the rate of Hepatitis B infection is soaring in Tibet because of a lack of education and vaccinations.

Dr. Lhamo Sharpa, a Nepal based Tibetan doctor, says 61 percent of Tibetans living in Nepal are infected with the virus, which harms the liver and can cause serious long term health problems in some people.

Dr. Lhamo, who directly works with researchers in Tibetan areas of China, told VOA that rural Tibetans are especially vulnerable because of a lack of access to proper vaccinations.

She added that a study she and her colleagues conducted shows that at least 64 percent of women in rural Tibetan areas give birth at home and are not told about vaccines available for their babies.

“Those who give birth at home don’t go to hospitals unless they are sick,” said Dr. Lhamo. “They don’t go to hospital because they are not aware of the vaccines and that is a problem.”

Hepatitis B is usually transmitted from infected people through blood or body fluids. The lack of education is a contributor to its spread. Dr. Lhamo believes many monks get Hepatitis B through sharing razors or going to hair salons that do not sterilize their equipment.

Questions have also been raised in the media about the quality of Hepatitis B vaccines produced in China.

Late last year, at least 8 babies died in China after receiving the Hepatitis B vaccine. The deaths sparked an investigation of the companies that produce the vaccine. In January, the three top firms, which produced nearly 80 percent of the vaccine in China last year, were forced to suspend production.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Tibetan service.