Chronic viral hepatitis B and C are a leading cause of liver cancer and hepatic cirrohsis. Worldwide, it is estimated that about 280 million people have chronic hepatitis B and 130 million people are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus.
Migrants from hepatitis B and C endemic areas are particularly at risk and the conditions represent a substantial health burden among nearly all migrant groups in Europe. For migrants, transmission of hepatitis B is primarily from mother to child at birth and in early childhood, and primarily through blood transfusions in the past and unsafe injections for hepatitis C.
Europe is for the first time in history more of a receiver that an exporter of people and most European countries have large migrant communities. Often these migrant groups pose important public health challenges, including high prevalence of chronic viral hepatitis B and C which can be up to 10x higher than the general population.
Both conditions are mostly asymptomatic and can remain undetected for many years. Awareness among those at risk and the general public is low, making case finding a challenge.
Effective antiviral treatment exists for both hepatitis B and C, slowing progression, delaying the onset of cirrhosis and reducing the risk of liver cancer. However, awareness among professionals about treatment options is generally low.
Screening for these two diseases and subsequent treatment of patients can considerably reduce morbidity and mortality to liver disease. The majority of the disease burden related to chronic hepatitis B and C is to be found in migrant groups. Systematic prevention and control of viral hepatitis among these often underserved migrant groups has long been neglected. Improving screening and treatment of these two diseases will also reduce inequalities in health between migrant and non-migrant groups.
The general objective of EU HEPscreen is to assess, describe and communicate to public health professionals the tools and conditions necessary for implementing successful screening programmes for hepatitis B and C among migrants in the European Union.