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Geneva, Switzerland — Marking World Hepatitis Day, the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) called on the different organizations which make up the United Nations systems to take action to fight against Viral Hepatitis (Hepatitis B and C), a potentially fatal infection of the liver which affects 500 million people.
Viral hepatitis is the cause of death of over one million people a year and, around the world, one in every three people has been exposed to either the Hepatitis B virus or the Hepatitis C virus. Even more worrying, those infected do not know this and for them the first indication of infection can be the development of liver cancer or liver failure.
EASL acknowledges the progress made in recent years, including the establishment of WHO’s Global Hepatitis Programme and welcomes the recent publication of the WHO strategy to prevent and control viral hepatitis infection. However, Professor Mark Thursz, EASL Secretary General, noted that “viral hepatitis needs to be recognised as a serious threat in its own right and measures need to be taken to prevent those not yet infected from becoming infected and to ensure treatment is made available for those who are infected.”
EASL laments the impact of the exclusive emphasis on HIV, TB and malaria in policies arising from the Millennium Development Goals. As part of the work he has recently been conducting in Africa, Prof. Thursz met a patient who told him “If I don’t catch HIV soon I’ll die.” Life saving antiviral medications which work against both HIV and HBV are provided by the Global Fund for patients with HIV but denied for patients with HBV.
Prof. Thursz remarked that “Continuing to ignore viral hepatitis is discriminating and will compromise achievements in sustainable development. UNDP should give viral hepatitis the same priority as HIV, TB and malaria.”
Prof. Markus Peck-Radosavljevic, EASL’s Vice-Secretary, noted, “Viral hepatitis is a global issue. We need WHO to take a more active role in setting standards to control the transmission of infection through medical interventions and blood products. It will be difficult to address the epidemic effectively until WHO establish screening and surveillance protocols in every region.”
EASL is the leading liver association in Europe. EASL attracts the foremost hepatology experts as members and has an impressive track record in promoting research in liver disease, supporting wider education, and promoting changes in European liver policy.
EASL believes the EU has a key role to play in raising awareness of liver disease in Europe, increasing additional funding for research, setting standards and guidelines for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of liver disease across the EU and encouraging member states to make liver disease a public health and research priority.
For more information please visit http://www.easl.eu/
About Liver Disease
Liver disease, estimated to affect 6% of the EU population (approx. 29 million people), is reported to be the EU’s 5th biggest killer, accounting for at least one in six deaths. In 2004, the mortality rate for chronic liver diseases was estimated at 14.3 per 100.000 in the EU-25.
This means that more than 70,000 Europeans are dying from chronic liver disease every year. Even more worrying is the fact that the EU statistics do not cover all diseases of the liver in one category, e.g. alcohol abuse related deaths and liver cancer are treated separately. Therefore, the actual rate of deaths from liver disease is certainly much higher than the statistics suggest.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These five types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.