Twenty one-year-old Divya (name changed) is a transgender who often indulges in sex with multiple partners. However, Divya did not know that she ought to get vaccinated against Hepatitis B to prevent spreading the virus.
Experts say that the transgender community, which is extremely vulnerable to contracting the virus, has not been adequately educated to ward off its ill effects. Estimates suggest that more than 20,000 transgenders live in Mumbai, many of whom indulge in commercial sex work to earn their living.
“Some seemingly straight men have a tendency to get attracted to us. Due of unawareness, the Hepatits B virus could be dormant in our body, which could then spread to the general population. Even during the health target intervention meetings, vaccination against Hepatitis B is rarely discussed,” confessed Divya.
Hepatitis B is a virus that is transmitted through the body fluids, namely blood, semen, tears or sweat.
Pallav Patankar, HIV programme director of Humsafar Trust, said, “No one talks about Hepatitis B as a potent virus which can kill a person. Close to 40% of transgenders in Mumbai are HIV infected, and the number of those infected by Hepatitis B can be pegged much higher. If transgenders express a wish to get vaccinated, they are administered vaccinations at our clinical centres.”
A 2007 study conducted by the state government stated that even as 42% of the city’s transgender population was HIV infected, the population affected by sexually transmitted diseases (STD) was as high as 58%.
“With rising awareness, a majority of transgenders have got vaccinated. However, 20% of the community is still not vaccinated,” said Urmi Jadhav, a member of the Humsafar Trust. Doctors warn that not getting vaccinated against the disease can have lethal implications.
“Hepatitis B can lay dormant in the body of a patient for some years, and later manifest in cirrhosis of the liver, which can be fatal. It only needs a person to take three doses of vaccines over six months to prevent the virus attack. Even as transgenders are more vulnerable to the virus, the entire population of the city should get vaccinated,” said Dr Rajesh Jaria, head of the Intensive Care at Kohinoor Hospital in Kurla.