Results from a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) survey suggest that European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) member states suffer from significant gaps in national testing policies and practices when it comes to hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Survey respondents specifically identified the need for Europe-wide practical guidance on testing practice, evaluation, and monitoring, according to a press release.
The ECDC estimates that between nine and 10 million citizens in the EU/EEA live with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV), with many being unaware of their condition.
In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a Regional Action Plan with the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030.
The ECDC conducted two surveys, with 20 (65 percent) and 21 (68 percent) member states responding, to evaluate the needs and priorities that could inform a future guidance on hepatitis B and C testing and screening. The survey also assessed the availability of monitoring data in the EU, taking into account core indicators defined in the WHO action plan.
A report explaining findings from the surveys revealed a lack of national monitoring programs regarding all aspects of testing, diagnosis, and treatment, as well as morbidity and mortality. The report also identified a si—gnificant gap between national HBV/HCV testing policies and practice across the EU/EEA.
Just over 50 percent of the EU/EEA countries that participated in the surveys had a policy on testing for HBV and HCV among drug users, while other key groups — such as sex workers and people getting tattoos and piercings in unregulated settings — were mostly omitted. Over 75 percent of responding countries reported a generalized feeling that the real risk groups were not being sufficiently targeted.
Overall, fewer than 50 percent of the respondents had a dedicated HBV or HCV testing guidance in place (29 and 48 percent, respectively), with the other member states having only a series of policy documents where HBV and HCV were mentioned, or no testing policy at all.
More than half of the respondents agreed there is a real need for European-level testing guidance, especially about which groups should be tested, how to target those at higher risk, and how to monitor and evaluate testing initiatives.
With the results of this baseline assessment in mind, the ECDC is now planning to develop a guidance on hepatitis testing to ensure the gaps that have been identified are filled at the EU/EEA level.