Every year, on 28 July, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners commemorate World Hepatitis Day to increase awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the diseases it causes. Eliminating hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030 is a target set under the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Health (SDG 3.3).
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is the most common infectious disease among people who inject drugs (PWID), being easily transmitted through the sharing of needles and syringes. National prevalence of HCV RNA — a biomarker for detecting an active infection — ranges from below 0.1% (Netherlands, Slovenia) to 2.3% (Romania) in the general population. However, some studies conducted among PWID show it can exceed 50%. This makes PWID a key target group for programmes to eliminate the virus.
There is evidence that harm reduction services, such as needle and syringe programmes, as well as the provision of opioid agonist treatment, can reduce the risk of HCV transmission. Yet the coverage of, and access to, these interventions vary considerably between European countries (see figure Availability of needle and syringe programmes in Europe at the regional level, 2021 or the most recent year available).
Barriers to the uptake of HCV testing and treatment also exist in many countries, which can mean that many HCV infections go undiagnosed and untreated.
On a positive note, more European countries are now making efforts to gather data about HCV linked to injecting, whether through ad hoc studies or routine surveillance systems. This information, together with the establishment of effective referral pathways to specialist health services, can contribute to a more systematic approach to providing the continuum of care needed for people who inject drugs and who have acquired HCV infection.
See also our hepatitis topics page for the full range of resources on this issue.