Social and personal barriers to diagnosis and treatment, combined with the extremely destructive nature of the disease, are contributing to high death rates.
The EIU calls for health systems to develop “innovative ways to reach out to patients”, drawing parallels with the early years of the HIV pandemic.
The Silent Pandemic: Tackling Hepatitis C with Policy Innovation was commissioned by Janssen, a leader in the hepatitis C drug market.
HCV, the virus that causes hepatitis C, is thought to affect 150 million people worldwide – most of whom will develop chronic liver disease. Hepatitis C caused 86,000 deaths in the EU in 2002.
The disease can be prevented and effectively treated, but as few as 10% of people with HCV are receiving treatment.
Causes of the high infection and death rates identified by the report include: transmission through medical equipment and transfusions; transmission through intravenous drug use; poor epidemiological data and a low diagnosis rate; and poor medical compliance by intravenous drug users.
“The report highlights that worldwide, despite the significant burden of HCV, governments have failed to get a grip on the scale and impact of the disease,” said Charles Gore, President of The World Hepatitis Alliance. “In both developed and developing countries, the true human and economic cost of HCV will continue to rise unless policy makers confront this urgent public health issue now.”
The EIU recommends a number of strategies: effective disease surveillance, better public awareness, and measures to reduce high-risk behaviour and transmission via healthcare systems.
It also recommends that health systems find “innovative ways to reach out to patients, rather than relying on traditional healthcare structures”.
Gaston Picchio, Global Hepatitis Disease Area Leader at Janssen, commented: “Janssen is committed to working with the HCV community and will continue to engage with healthcare professionals, government officials and patient advocates around the world to support their efforts to reduce the individual and societal burden of this devastating disease.”