Last week, to coincide with World Hepatitis Day, a new report, commissioned by United European Gastroenterology (UEG), calls for all European countries to adopt universal vaccination and harmonized screening programs for hepatitis, as well as improved neonatal screening, to help speed up the eradication of the disease.

European Union/CIA
European Union/CIA

Almost 30 million people in the EU suffer from a chronic liver condition, one of the primary causes of which is hepatitis infection. Many of those with a chronic liver condition will have suffered since childhood and will require a lifetime of care at considerable economic cost.

“Pediatric liver disease is becoming increasingly common in young children and, more importantly, chronic liver diseases in children represent a rising problem, with significant effects on public health and economic burden throughout Europe”, explains UEG liver expert, Helena Cortez-Pinto. “We urgently need to find a cost effective solution to control the spread of hepatitis and reduce the socio-economic burden of the disease and medical opinion suggests that the best solution in the current environment would be the adoption of universal vaccination for hepatitis B, and screening of high-risk groups”.

Although the incidence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection has declined significantly since the implementation of universal immunization programs in several countries, several member states still do not carry out routine childhood vaccination programs and a significant number of children are still infected each year. In addition, there is no vaccine yet against Hepatitis C and infection rates continue to rise in Europe, with diagnosis rates rising by a third in England and considerably higher rates being recorded in southern Europe, including Italy, Romania and Spain. Both viruses not only cause severely impaired quality of life and developmental delay but also carry significant risk of cirrhosis and cancer.

The European Liver Patients’ Association (ELPA), warns of the financial impact of liver disease, specifically hepatitis, in their “White Paper Project – the socio-economic burden of hepatitis in Europe” and urges policy makers to consider that early screening and prevention would actually help save EU resources in the long-term.

In support of World Hepatitis Day, the World Hepatitis Alliance launches its new campaign ‘#NOhep’ which aims to eradicate viral hepatitis by 2030. The Alliance estimates that more than 7 million lives could be saved worldwide by 2030 if universal vaccination programs were introduced.