Brussels, 21st January, 2014 – EASL (the European Association for the Study of the Liver), ELPA (the European Liver Patients' Association), Correlation Network Hepatitis C, and UEG (United European Gastroenterology) joined forces to call for MEPs to show their support and sign the Written Declaration 0023/2013 on hepatitis B and C.
When signed by a majority of the Members of the European Parliament the Written Declaration will be published in the minutes and forwarded to the European Union institutions named in the text, together with the names of the signatories. The deadline for signature of the Written Declaration is 18th February, 2014. View the full text of the declaration.
Hepatitis B and C are virus-related diseases which know no borders and are 50 to 100 more infectious than HIV. Around 90% of people with Hepatitis are unaware of their infection, because viral Hepatitis B and C can remain asymptomatic for decades. The estimated prevalence of chronic Hepatitis B and C varies across Europe from between 0.22% and 8.8%.
Viral Hepatitis patients are highly stigmatised, as the virus is generally associated with intravenous drug use. However, for a majority of patients the route of infection is unknown. While in the 1970s and 1980s untested blood transfusion was the main route of infection, nowadays unsterilised tattoo equipment is increasingly becoming a route of infection, while infection among injecting drug users remains a major problem.
When diagnosed early hepatitis C can be cured in more than 80% of cases, and Hepatitis B can be controlled. There is no medical reason to deny Hepatitis treatment to anyone (e.g. older patients or injecting drug users), but indeed there is a public health case to ensure that treatment is widely available because while undergoing treatment, patients are less likely to infect others with the virus. Furthermore, hepatitis B can be very easily prevented through effective vaccine programmes which are available in some EU countries - though not in all.
As a result of late diagnosis, and insufficient access to effective new treatments, many hepatitis patients develop costly health complications, including liver cancer and liver scarring (cirrhosis). 78% of all primary liver cancer cases are associated with a prior infection with Hepatitis B or C. In 2008, 47,147 Europeans died of liver cancer, and 84,697 Europeans died of liver cirrhosis. These figures combined exceed breast cancer mortality (103,255). Liver cancer and cirrhosis are increasing rapidly, and if hepatitis testing and diagnosis is not made widely available, then treating and controlling this deadly virus will be a major challenge for health systems in the very near future and over the coming decades. The devastating impact, and future burden on society and on national health systems can be minimised through effective action now.
While fully respecting Member States' prerogative on all matters related to healthcare, the EU can help facilitate and promote good practice sharing and highlighting the benefits of proposed action - as well as the high costs of inaction. As a start to reducing existing health inequalities, the EU could revive the WHO Resolution on Hepatitis from 2010, which has been largely overlooked, and support Member States in implementing the agreed actions in the WHO resolution.
For further information please contact Ms Margaret Walker, CEO, ELPA, at firstname.lastname@example.org