The number Europeans living with hepatitis B and C is growing, particularly in Eastern Europe. But access to treatments remains scarce, due to funding problems and a lack of awareness of the problem, say patient groups.
Over the past four decades, there has been a significant increase in Europeans affected by hepatitis B and C. These diseases kill around 120,000 people in Europe every year. However, in the case of hepatitis C, many are unaware that they have the disease, caused by a virus that primarily affects the liver, as hepatitus is often asymptomatic and progresses slowly.
While experts say that parts of Europe have good practice in terms of intervention, most countries face major challenges in delivering high-quality hepatitis care.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that the EU and its member states develop and implement a hepatitis action plan that encompasses awareness, prevention and treatment across all relevant policy areas.
Therefore, in 2014, patient organisations such as the European Association for the Study of the Liver, the World Hepatitis Alliance and the European Liver Patients Association, and the pharmaceutical industry met and agreed to recommendations on how to combat hepatitis, and compiled them into a new report.
Hepatitis B and C: An action plan for saving lives in Europe, aims to make it easier for decision-makers and healthcare institutions to tackle viral hepatitis effectively.
At the report’s launch event in Brussels on Wednesday (20 May), Charles Gore from the World Hepatitis Alliance stated that since no global funding mechanism exists for hepatitis, as opposed to AIDS/HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, governments will have to find a lot of their funding for the disease domestically.
“That means they need, very importantly, to be able to make the investment case to allocate resources. The report is to help governments to do that,” Gore said.
The report suggests that education and awareness raising among lawmakers, the general public and healthcare professionals is pivotal to improve the prevention and management of hepatitis C.
The links between hepatitis C and liver cancer should also be highlighted.
Concerns over Eastern Europe
Antons Mozalevskis, of the WHO’s Collaborating Centre on HIV and Viral Hepatitis, said that in Europe, 13.3 million have hepatitis B, and 14 million are living with hepatitis C.
“The European region is very diverse both in terms of the prevalence, with over 60% of the infected living in Eastern Europe and regarding recent infections. The rates are still going up there,” Mozalevskis said.
France and Romania are two good examples of the extreme situation in Europe, regarding the management of hepatitis C.
While France has implemented three consecutive national plans that call for efforts to prevent transmission, increase detection rates and access to treatment, Romania has no national plan, and detection and treatment rates are low.