BRUSSELS, October 15, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- In an unprecedented move to address the public health threat that viral hepatitis represents across the European Union (EU), leading physicians, scientists and patient groups demanded policy action[i] from EU officials at today's Summit Conference on Hepatitis B and C. New research highlights how Member States are failing to consistently implement prevention, screening, surveillance and early treatment programmes that would help to halt the epidemic.[ii],[iii]

At least 23 million people are estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis B and C, but data available show that this does not reflect the true burden of this life-threatening health issue.[iv] Liver cancer related deaths, which are attributed to chronic infection with viral hepatitis B or C in up to 85 percent of the cases,[v] have increased significantly over the past two decades in Europe.[vi]

A co-chair of the Partnership Steering Group, Professor Massimo Colombo of the University of Milan, Italy said: Throughout the conference, presentations have shown that we have the knowledge and tools available with prevention, screening and effective treatments to manage the problem and that these can be put into place. Now we must work towards developing and implementing integrated European policies that can stop this hepatitis B and C timebomb.

Highlights from the latest research include a report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) which concluded that harmonization of EU surveillance will represent an added value as it will make it possible to assess the disease burden, evaluate the impact of prevention and control strategies and define epidemiological trends or transmission patterns.[ii] Building on these findings, the International Centre for Migration Health and Development presented evidence that there are clear benefits for prevention programmes to be implemented within the EU to reach at-risk populations. Plans should include better coordination and coverage with vaccination against hepatitis B plus education, surveillance and screening programmes to address the challenges of infectious disease like viral hepatitis, when populations from endemic zones relocate to and across Europe.[vii]

Ultimately, inadequate prevention through public awareness and screening, as well as a lack of early diagnosis protocols are the key barriers to effectively managing viral hepatitis. For hepatitis B, vaccination for children has been effectively implemented across most Member States, but considerable efforts still need to be made to capture age-groups that preceded the introduction of these immunization programmes.

The Call to Action[i] calls for policy solutions to: develop and accelerate EU-wide surveillance through co-ordinated programmes; promote universal access to early treatment; improve public awareness on the risks and to integrate prevention programmes into existing public health frameworks; establish cost-effective and targeted screening programmes for at-risk populations and to expand research resources in hepatitis B and C.


[i] Call to Action. Presented at the Hepatitis B and C Summit Conference in Brussels on 15/10/2010.

[ii] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Surveillance and prevention of hepatitis B and C in Europe. Stockholm, October 2010

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[iii] Hepatitis Patient Self-Help in Europe. European Liver Patient Association. September 2010

[iv] Piorkowsky N Y. Europe's hepatitis challenge: defusing the viral timebomb. Journal of Hepatology 51 (2009) 1068

[v] Perz JF, Armstrong GL, Farrington LA, Hutin YJ, Bell BP. The contributions of hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus infections to cirrhosis and primary liver cancer worldwide. J Hepatol 2006;45:529--38.

[vi] McGlynn KA, Tsao L, Hsing AW, et al. International trends and patterns of primary liver cancer. Int J Cancer. 2001;94:290-296

[vii] Carballo M, Cody R, O'Reilly E. Migration, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. International Centre for Migration, Health and Development. October 2010.

SOURCE: Hepatitis B and C Summit Conference

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