New MEP group aims to raise awareness of growing liver disease epidemic
26 February 2013. A new cross-party MEP group has been launched in a bid to ensure that Europe's estimated 29 million chronic liver condition sufferers "are not forgotten".
The 'Friends of the liver MEP group', chaired by British deputy Stephen Hughes, aims to promote the issue of liver health at EU level, act as an information and exchange forum between stakeholders and EU policymakers and provide input and expertise on EU health related policies.
Its launch coincided with the unveiling of a major new report on the burden of liver disease across Europe, by the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL), at an event hosted by Hughes in the European parliament on Wednesday February 20.
Key findings of the report - the first comprehensive Europe-wide literature review on the burden of liver disease - suggest that alcohol consumption, viral hepatitis B and C and health problems linked to obesity are the leading causes of cirrhosis and liver cancer in Europe.
Speaking at the event, Hughes said that he wanted to see more joined-up thinking on liver disease as a way of tackling the issue "more holistically".
"We hope that this informal MEP group will enable us to raise awareness within the European parliament of the seriousness of the liver disease epidemic and will encourage every single one of those 29 million Europeans who suffer from a chronic liver condition. They have not been forgotten - they will not be forgotten."
The problem, Hughes suggested, was that inside the European parliament, "Just as it is inside the European commission, people tend to work in their separate silos. We need to get them out of those silos and make sure they take a broader view of the issues involved in an area like liver disease.
"So this group will bring together a wide range of members from a wide range of backgrounds. We will then use the expertise between ourselves and outside experts to bring the commission before the parliament, to bring other members in from other relevant committees so we can address this subject in detail".
Liver disease is estimated to affect six per cent of the EU's population and is thought to be the fifth most common cause of death, accounting for at least one in six deaths.
Attendees at the event heard from several speakers, including Markus Peck, EASL vice secretary, who said, "Liver disease is one of Europe's major killers…but a crucial issue in tackling the burden is knowing the size of the problem."
"Liver disease strikes early; it reduces the workforce and has a high cost on society. It's therefore very important to get this message across, especially to members of the European parliament. Liver mortality is the fifth most common cause of death in Europe so it's very important to bring this across."
"When you start to see figures such as six per cent of the European population, - that's 29 million people affected by liver disease - then makers, civil servants and the rest have to wake up."
"So we think that this is a major milestone in our activities, and we hope that based on this data we will perhaps be more welcome in the European commission and of course we will be interacting with the new friends group of MEPs chaired by Stephen Hughes. And hopefully we will end up with some policy implementation that will help to reduce the burden of liver disease Europe wide."
"We have worked with Stephen Hughes in the past so it's important to have somebody who understands the issues that we are facing. He is familiar with the health problems that exist through viral hepatitis, alcohol and obesity. He's obviously a very busy individual, but I'd like to make the point that if you want a job done well, give it to a busy person."
The support of Stephen Hughes and the Friends of the Liver MEP group will be of key importance in driving awareness of the burden of liver disease, added EASL executive director Grégoire Pavillon.
"Having someone like Stephen on board will be a key factor for EASL. It's a unique way for us to gather political support and a unique chance to get the message across."
The creation of the MEP group is "only a beginning," said Hughes, adding, "but I'm looking forward to working together in the months and years ahead to tackle the burden of liver disease".
Please click here to see the video of the launching event.