Stark inequalities in hepatitis care call for EU action

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The strength of national hepatitis plans is the bundling of otherwise uncoordinated EU efforts. Many countries are effective only in some aspects of their response to hepatitis, argues Andrey Kovatchev.

Andrey Kovatchev is a Bulgarian MEP from the European People's Party.

"Differences in prevention, detection and access to treatment of viral Hepatitis in different EU member states are alarming.

The European Union should prevent its citizens from health threats and an important step forward would be to encourage the development of national Hepatitis plans throughout the Union to reduce existing inequality.

The strength of a national hepatitis plan is the bundling of otherwise uncoordinated efforts. Many countries are effective only in some aspects of their response to hepatitis.

Germany for example is strong in prevention and medical treatment of patients but lags behind in early detection – a crucial factor in an effective response, as it enables patients to seek early treatment and helps to avoid unknowingly passing on the virus.

A coordinated response can detect such shortcomings and channel resources to where they are most needed. The best overall hepatitis prevention, screening and care policy can be found in France, unsurprisingly, as the country is successfully implementing their national hepatitis plan.

The problem of healthcare inequalities has been discussed in the European Parliament in June during a conference hosted by Andrey Kovatchev MEP (EPP, Bulgaria), and organised by the Bulgarian National Patients' Organization and the European Patients' Forum.

MEPs – among which Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE/Bulgaria), Petru Luhan (EPP/Romania), Alojz Peterle (EPP/Slovenia) – made a commitment to establish in September an Informal Group, lead by MEP Andrey Kovatchev, within the European Parliament to address the problem and work out a solution for reducing healthcare inequalities in the EU.

Though the Commission has no mandate to oblige member states to adopt national plans, facilitating the exchange of best practices between the states would be a first step on the way to improve the situation in those countries which lack the knowhow in implementing effective policies.

Hepatitis should also be included in the on-going reflection process on chronic diseases and sustainability of health systems, as early action is far more cost efficient than later treatment.

These are due ways forward in ensuring citizens are prevented and properly cured against Hepatitis and other major diseases and the EU institutions have their crucial role to play regardless of their still restricted legislative competences in healthcare.

On July 28, the World Hepatitis Alliance in partnership with the European Liver Patients’ Association, and all member organisations, will celebrate the World Hepatitis Day 2013. 23 Million patients or one in 22 citizens in Europe suffers from viral Hepatitis.

The disease causes the death of 125.000 patients every year making it one of the number one infectious disease killers in Europe.

These and more detailed findings about the situation in the EU member states, Switzerland and Norway can be found in the “Euro Hepatitis Care Index”, conducted by the Swedish think tank Health Consumer Powerhouse and the European Liver Patients Association (ELPA)."

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