A survey conducted among Members of the European Liver Patients Association (ELPA) reveals that hepatitis awareness amongst national policymakers and the general public is very low. In view of this ignorance and neglect of a major disease at national level ELPA calls upon the EU to promote targeted screening strategies to ensure early diagnosis for those at risk.
Current estimates indicate that in the WHO European Region, 14 million people live with chronic hepatitis B, while approximately 9 million people are infected with the hepatitis C virus. Up to 90% of hepatitis patients are unaware of their infections.
ELPA conducted a survey to gauge the political commitment to combat hepatitis in Europe. The survey will be launched today at a conference on “Fighting Hepatitis to Tackle Liver Cancer” in the European Parliament hosted by Alojz Peterle MEP (EPP-ED, Slovenia).
Key findings include:
– In Austria, only 9% of newly diagnosed Hepatitis C patients were aware of the disease and only 3% realised that they were at risk once they had been diagnosed
– Only France, Spain and United Kingdom have conducted hepatitis awareness campaigns.
– France, the Netherlands, the UK and Sweden are the only countries to have developed a comprehensive national plan to fight hepatitis.
In light of this national inertia, ELPA calls for action at EU level. ELPA President Nadine Piorkowsky explains: “If Member States don’t act, the EU has to guide them in the development of targeted screening campaigns for Hepatitis risk groups. Countries like France have proven that investment in the fight against Hepatitis pays off. There is no reason why this should not be replicated by other Member States.”
Alojz Peterle MEP adds: “Hepatitis represents one of the major challenges for public health in Europe. If policy makers want to lower tomorrow’s mortality and morbidity rates, they have to act today.”
The consequences of inaction will be terrible. People infected with the virus and treated too late frequently experience severe liver damage such as liver scarring, liver cancer, or liver failure. Since the vast majority of those who carry the hepatitis virus are unaware of their infection, the number of patients with such follow-on diseases will rise dramatically.
Dr. Heiner Wedemeyer, Vice-Secretary of the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL), concludes: “Liver cancer is very frequently fatal and the incidence has already doubled in the past 20 years. Since there is a strong relationship between Hepatitis and liver cancer, concrete efforts have to be made to find those hepatitis carriers, so they can become patients and receive treatment before cancer can set in.
The event will take place today at the European Parliament in Brussels, Members’ Salon from 18.30h to 20.00h.
ELPA emerged from a desire amongst European liver patient groups to share their experiences of the often very different approaches adopted in different countries. ELPA was formally launched in Paris on April 14th 2005 during the annual conference of the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) and now has 21 members from 17 countries.
ELPA’s aim is to promote the interests of people with liver disease by furthering awareness and prevention among healthcare professionals, policymakers and the public at large; by addressing the low profile of liver disease compared to other disease areas; by sharing experience of successful case examples as regards the management of the disease; by working with professional bodies such as EASL to ensure that treatment and care are aligned across Europe to the highest standards. Find out more about ELPA at: http://www.elpa-info.org/.