European Region

Situation:

  • 15 million people in the European Region are living with chronic hepatitis B virus infection.
  • More than 14 million with chronic hepatitis C virus infection. 
  • The main routes of transmission include sharing contaminated needles and equipment in drug use, body piercing, tattooing and acupuncture.
  • Over 171,000 die every year from hepatitis B or C in Europe – more than 400 deaths a day, or approximately 2% of all deaths.
  • Two thirds of people with hepatitis B or C in the region live in Eastern Europe and central Asia.
  • The epidemiology of hepatitis B in the WHO European Region is diverse; prevalence ranges from extremely low (<  0.1%) in northern Europe to high (>  10%) in countries in central Asia
  • Member States in eastern and southern parts of the Region still face a heavy burden due to chronic HBV infection in older age cohorts.
  • In most countries of western and northern Europe, the majority of cases are now registered as imported, and the burden is considerably higher among immigrants from countries with high prevalence. Migrants account for an estimated 25% of chronic hepatitis B cases and 14% of chronic hepatitis C cases in the region.
  • Certain groups, such as people with multiple sexual partners, men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs (PWID) and health care workers, are at increased risk of HBV infection.
  • The burden of chronic hepatitis C is disproportionately high among PWID and MSM in HIV-infected populations.
  • Historically, new infections typically occurred through blood transfusions and other forms of nosocomial transmission, though injection drug use now accounts for 80% of new HCV infections, with a known transmission route in European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) countries.  

Response:

  • All donated blood is now screened for hepatitis B and C.
  • Two of the most effective preventative methods are raising awareness of the risks and adopting harm reduction policies.
  • In 2016, WHO EURO launched a regional strategy to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030.

Hepatitis B and C each affects up to 2% of the population in the WHO European Region [...] We need to take urgent action, in close collaboration with our partners, to address this neglected and silent epidemic.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe

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