EMCDDA at 7th International Symposium on Hepatitis Care in Substance Users

This week, the EMCDDA is participating in the 7th International Symposium on Hepatitis Care in Substance Users, organised by the International Network for Hepatitis in Substance Users (INHSU). The event, running from 19–21 September in Cascais, is exploring the latest advances in hepatitis C epidemiology, management and treatment of viral hepatitis among people who use drugs, with a specific focus on hepatitis C. The EMCDDA is represented on the conference programme committee and is among the event supporters. Delegates from around the world include: health professionals, researchers, community organisations, people who use drugs and policymakers.

Transmitted through the sharing of needles, syringes and other injecting equipment, hepatitis C is the most common infectious disease among people who inject drugs in Europe. Failure to address HCV infection in this group could mean considerable costs in the future, both to individuals and to health budgets

The symposium programme covers:

  • Day 1: Policy, epidemiology and public health
  • Day 2: HCV diagnosis, linkage to care and treatment
  • Day 3: HCV treatment and access

During the inaugural session, which focused on the theme ‘How do we work together to achieve HCV elimination among people who inject drugs?’, EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel delivered an opening address from the agency.

Mr Goosdeel made the link to EMCDDA Strategy 2025, which states that the agency ‘has an important responsibility to act as a catalyst for improving the quality and delivery of responses to reduce the health and social consequences associated with drug use. This requires the agency to keep abreast of new prevention, treatment and harm-reduction approaches. Special attention will be given to developing resources in areas where drugs have a significant impact on European public health, such as hepatitis C prevention and treatment, and overdose deaths’.

Mr Goosdeel further presented the strategic vision for the EMCDDA that is ‘to contribute to a healthier and more secure Europe by providing evidence for better decisions and actions, healthier and more secure for everyone leaving in Europe, including for persons who use drugs’. He concluded his intervention by declaring that: ’It is time for change, time to move from knowledge to policy, and from policy to practice’.

‘Integration of HCV, other co-infections and harm reduction services’ will be discussed at a session sponsored by the European ‘Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food’ Executive Agency (Chafea). Here the EMCDDA will speak on ‘How EU agencies are taking an integrated approach to hepatitis C control’. In an EMCDDA-sponsored session, experts will look at ‘Monitoring the elimination of HCV as a public health threat among PWID in the EU’.

In a plenary session on the second conference day, results of an EMCDDA-funded study on the topic: ‘Do national HCV policies in the EU address treatment and care for people who inject drugs?’ will be presented. Also showcased will be posters on ‘European evidence-based guidance on prevention and control of HCV in prison settings’, based on joint ECDC–EMCDDA work and on ’Barriers to HCV Testing in Drug Treatment Services for People who Inject Drugs’, based on an EMCDDA-funded study carried out by Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. Finally, the EMCDDA will display a selection of its publications at the Chafea stand in the exhibition area.

Speaking earlier this year on World Hepatitis Day (28 July), Alexis Goosdeel said: ‘I believe that we now have an opportunity to make real and sustained progress in this area. By combining treatment with adequate prevention and harm-reduction measures, including scaling up HCV testing to reach the undiagnosed, we have the necessary tools to control the epidemic. Through its Strategy 2025, the EMCDDA contributes to a healthier Europe by promoting the delivery of such responses’.

The elimination of hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030 (90% reduction in incidence; 65% in mortality ) is a goal of the first Global health sector strategy on viral hepatitis 2016–2021, endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 2016. Through dissemination of scientific knowledge, the symposium aims to contribute to this WHO goal.

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