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ELPA launches Hep-CORE study; preliminary data from patient groups raise concerns about responses to HBV and HCV in Europe

Keith Alcorn
27 July 2016

The European Liver Patients Association (ELPA), in collaboration with a European research team, recently launched the Hep-CORE study to assess national responses to viral hepatitis in the region, collecting a preliminary dataset in advance of World Hepatitis Day (28 July 2016). The data, which were obtained by surveying ELPA member groups, suggest that some European countries are falling short in terms of the policies and practices that public health experts and the World Health Organization recommend as the basis for an effective response to the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) epidemics.

The study has enrolled one ELPA member group or coalition of groups from each country to complete a comprehensive survey on key aspects of the response to HBV and HCV in their countries. Survey topics include viral hepatitis policies, disease monitoring, prevention, testing and treatment.

The preliminary data have indicated that only 14 of 23 countries represented in the initial analysis currently have national hepatitis strategies. A viral hepatitis resolution approved by the World Health Assembly in 2014 called on all countries to develop and implement national strategies for preventing, diagnosing and treating viral hepatitis.

Additionally, there appear to be gaps in relation to harm reduction services for people who inject drugs, a population with high levels of chronic HBV infection and HCV infection in most European settings. While 18 of the 23 countries represented by survey respondents were said to have opioid substitution therapy available in all parts of their respective countries, only 7 of the 23 were reported to have needle and syringe programmes available in all parts of their respective countries. Needle and syringe programmes are proven to be a key viral hepatitis prevention tool.

“There is currently no standard way to monitor how well we are doing in the fight against HBV and HCV in European countries,” said Tatjana Reic, the president of ELPA’s board. “ELPA is determined to fill the monitoring gap by having its own patient groups report on the policy situation in their countries. We have the impression that some countries have excellent policies relating to some aspects of treatment and prevention, while other countries are doing much less. But we need a systematic assessment that delivers hard evidence in order to drive progress. Hep-CORE will give us that evidence.”

Professor Jeffrey V. Lazarus of Rigshospitalet, the University of Copenhagen, is leading the research team conducting the study.

Lazarus commented that while the data shared for World Hepatitis Day are preliminary, they confirm his study team’s belief that ELPA’s member patient groups have an important role to play in monitoring their governments’ responses to HBV and HCV.

“ELPA’s members are eager to participate in the study, and they have a wealth of knowledge to contribute,” he said. “We look forward to reporting on the full dataset collected from them later in 2016.”

The European Liver Patients’ Association, established in 2005, works to promote the interests of people with liver diseases. ELPA currently has 35 member groups from 27 countries. ELPA and its members are dedicated to multi-level lobbying initiatives involving European Union and national policymakers, liver specialist associations and public health experts.