1 “The biggest barrier I have faced in the fight against viral hepatitis is no recognition, lack of help. Being left to my own devices with a treatment that causes major anxiety and depression“ hcv quest


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Country-Specific Report 

Belgium


Global Patient Survey

1

“The biggest barrier I have 

faced in the fight against viral 

hepatitis is... no recognition, lack of 

help. Being left to my own devices 

with a treatment that causes major 

anxiety and depression“

HCV Quest Country-Specific Report

“The biggest barrier I have faced 

in the fight against viral hepatitis 

is... depression. Inability to stop 

working, disastrous close family 

relationships and health status“

The global survey was developed and run by the 

World Hepatitis Alliance during July–December 

2014. The survey was promoted via social media 

and through World Hepatitis Alliance channels, 

and received support from many patient groups 

and healthcare professionals, who shared links to 

the survey online or distributed hard copies in their 

clinics. 

All responses were translated and analysed, including 

many thousands of free-text responses sharing 

insights into the reality of life with hepatitis C.

A global report of findings was launched in April 

2015 at the International Liver Congress in Vienna. 

This country-specific report summarises responses 

of 124 people from Belgium, with insights into the 

experiences they shared and pertinent comparisons 

with regional findings.

For the purposes of this report, Belgium is defined as 

part of the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe 

Region, and has been contrasted against responses 

from this region including Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, 

France, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Romania, 

Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

ABOUT HCV QUEST

HCV Quest was a global survey of almost 4000 

people with hepatitis C. The results give a 

striking – and sometimes shocking – insight into 

the experiences of people living with hepatitis C.

“The biggest barrier I have 

faced in the fight against 

viral hepatitis is... waiting for 

treatment“


2

HCV Quest Country-Specific Report

Survey findings 

Belgium had the lowest awareness of hepatitis C prior to diagnosis 



in Europe – equal with Poland (17.3% aware); this compares with 

a regional average of 26%, with the highest level of awareness in 

Greece (52.8%)

Only 4.3% had heard about hepatitis C from government 



campaigns, even lower than the global average of 4.8%

In Belgium, only 38% (vs. 29% across the region) of 



responders felt that in general people had been ‘very 

understanding’ about their hepatitis C, with 11% 

feeling they were ‘not understanding at all’ 

People’s perception of healthcare professionals’ 



empathy and understanding seemed to be even 

lower, with few Belgian responders feeling 

that their nurses (26%) and physicians (36%) 

‘completely’ understood the full impact their 

disease on their lives 

Many people felt their nurse (14%) or physician 



(9%) did not understand this at all 

Encouragingly, 21% of respondents were put in 



touch with a patient group on diagnosis, which 

is almost twice the global average and well above 

the regional average of 14%.

Hepatitis C is one of the most 

common causes of liver disease 

worldwide [1]

Around 69,000 adults (0.9%) in 

Belgium had hepatitis C in 2013 

[2], with a total of 80–150 million 

people living with the chronic 

condition worldwide [3]

Deaths related to hepatitis C are 

increasing and 700,000 died 

worldwide in 2013 [1]

There is currently no vaccine for 

hepatitis C [3,4]



FAST FACTS

1. Global, regional, and national age-sex specific all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 240 causes of death, 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.Lancet 2015;385:117–71.

2. Gower E et al. Global epidemiology and genotype distribution of the hepatitis C virus infection. J Hepatol 2014; 61: S45-S57

3. World Health Organization (WHO). Hepatitis C. Fact Sheet N. 164. Geneva, Switzerland, 2014. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs164/en/ 

4. World Health Organization (WHO). Guidelines for the screening, care and treatment of persons with hepatitis C infection. Geneva, Switzerland, 2014. Available at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstre

am/10665/111747/1/9789241548755_eng.pdf?ua=1&ua=1.26 for 240 causes of death, 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet 2015;385:117–71.



 

What does this mean?

General awareness of hepatitis C is 

unacceptably low

The government is not doing enough to fulfil its commitment 

to World Health Assembly Resolution 63.18 to use World 

Hepatitis Day each year to raise awareness. 

Stronger awareness and recognition of hepatitis C is a global 

health priority and is urgently needed to drive change in 

public and healthcare perceptions, acceptance and 

understanding of the disease and ultimately to 

help prevent, diagnose and treat hepatitis C 

infection in a timely way. 



Public awareness and understanding about 

hepatitis C needs to improve

Knowledge of hepatitis C before diagnosis among HCV Quest responders

4 in 5

 said they didn’t know what hepatitis C was before  

their diagnosis

Country data based on 121 responses



81% 

unaware


3

HCV Quest Country-Specific Report

Survey findings 

Only 35% of people said they had been offered a test 



for hepatitis after reporting symptoms of the disease 

to their doctor

At the time of diagnosis, almost 60% of 



responders believe they had symptoms of 

hepatitis C

Belgians had below-average liver health at 



the time of their diagnosis, compared with 

other European nations

5% of respondents only discovered they 



had hepatitis C when they were admitted 

to hospital with liver-related illness

Once aware that they had hepatitis C, 65% 



changed their lifestyle and three quarters 

stopped or reduced alcohol consumption

More positively, once diagnosis was made, 



67% of Belgian respondents who were 

diagnosed by their family doctor were referred 

to a specialist within 3 months, only slightly 

below the European average (71%)



What does this mean?

Physicians could make a difference through earlier 

detection and prompt referral

Doctors only recommended testing to a third of people who presented with 

symptoms of hepatitis C. While two thirds were referred to a specialist within 3 

months of diagnosis, by this time many had liver damage (fibrosis or cirrhosis).

The story is similar across Europe – early detection and referral should be universal. 

Better education of physicians and routine screening, particularly in high-risk 

people, is needed. 

Diagnosis itself can have a positive and empowering effect, with many 

people changing their lifestyle to protect their liver. This emphasises the 

importance of finding people who have yet to be diagnosed and 

helping them to look after their long-term health.

Belgian respondents reported 



high levels

 of liver damage sustained before diagnosis



If you told your doctor about these symptoms, were you offered a hepatitis C test?

What was the state of your liver at the time of diagnosis? 

Yes

 

34.9%

 

No

1 = No damage

 33%

1 =No damage

 33%

3 = Cirrhosis without complications 

11%

3 = Cirrhosis without complications 

8%

5 = Liver cancer

 1%

5 = Liver cancer

 0.2%

Yes 

29% 

No

2 = Fibrosis 

45%

2 = Fibrosis 

34%

4 = Decompensated cirrhosis 

  

2%

4 = Decompensated cirrhosis 

  

2%

6 = I don’t know 

12%

6 = I don’t know 

16%

On reporting symptoms of hepatitis C, only 35% of respondents were offered a test (based on 106 responses)

Belgian respondents had suffered more liver damage than the average across the region before their diagnosis (based on 123 responses) 

Belgium

Belgium

Regional

Regional

Early diagnosis: timely testing and referral requires physician awareness 

of risk and symptoms

Physician awareness of symptoms is 



low

4

HCV Quest Country-Specific Report

Around half

 of Belgian respondents feel hepatitis C has a 



significant impact

 

on their physical, emotional or mental health. 



Hepatitis C has a huge impact on people’s lives 

Survey findings  

In Belgium, roughly 25% of people described the impact of hepatitis C as ‘very significant’ across all 



aspects of their lives (physical, emotional, psychological and mental wellbeing, and other); this was 

similar across the European region

The highest impact was felt on physical and psychological and mental health with more people rating 



this at 4 or 5 out of 5 for severity 

Belgians were significantly more open that the European average when it 



came to talking about their diagnosis. Over 90% of Belgians had told 

their close family about their diagnosis, 68% had told friends and 

43% had told colleagues - though 2% had told no one at all

One third of those surveyed from Belgium had told patient 



organisations about their diagnosis, above the regional 

average (29%).This may be partly because in Belgium, 

20% of people are referred to patient groups at the 

time of their diagnosis, versus a regional average of 

just 14%. In several European countries this is much 

lower, e.g. Greece 2%, Russia 4%, UK 9%

More than 70% of Belgians felt having hepatitis C 



had impacted their work life, while only 7% felt it 

had affected their education

18% said they believed they had suffered 



discrimination as a result of having hepatitis C. This 

was similar to the regional average of 21%, and 34% 

said they would be ‘uncomfortable’ to discuss their 

diagnosis with a boss or colleagues



What does this mean? 

A large proportion of people in Belgium and across the 

European region felt the disease and treatment had a significant or 

severe impact on their health, lifestyle and working life.

There is a clear need for support for those living with hepatitis C. Belgium 

scores comparatively well on sharing news of the diagnosis with friends and 

loved ones, but the specialist knowledge and support of patient groups can 

be a critical resource, so efforts should be made to continue increasing the 

proportion of patients referred at the time they are diagnosed.

With nearly 1 in 5 people feeling they have suffered discrimination as a 

result of hepatitis C, the government must act to ensure that robust 

legislation prohibits discrimination and can be enforced to 

send a strong message. 

Hepatitis C affects my physical 

health (overall feeling of health  

and wellbeing) (n=120) 

 

Hepatitis C affects my  

emotional health (romantic and 

family relationships) (n=116) 

 

Hepatitis C affects my 

psychological and mental  

health (self-image, future plans or 

career decisions; feelings of anxiety  

or depression) (n=119)

1 = Little impact

 16.7%

1 = Little impact

 30.2%

1 = Little impact

 21.8%



7.5%



12.9%



10.9%



25.8%



17.2%



20.2%

4

 25.8%

4

 16.4%

4

 22.7%

5 = Very significant impact

 24.2%

5 = Very significant impact

 23.3%

5 = Very significant impact

 24.4%


5

Patient support



Survey findings 

40% said they had never discussed the option of 



newer therapies with their healthcare professional 

Of those whose healthcare professional 



decided they were not eligible for treatment, 

72% were not comfortable with this 

decision

85% of responders felt they should 



discuss treatment options with their 

doctor before a decision is made. 19% 

felt the final decision should be with the 

doctor, and 65% by the patient

By contrast, only 58% said they had 



been consistently consulted and 

involved in decision making 



What does this mean?

Healthcare systems are promoting partnership and dialogue 

between patients and physicians, and this is reflected in Belgium 

with more than a third of respondents rating communication from their 

healthcare professionals as exemplary. 

However, 10% held the opposite view and said their experience had been ‘totally 

unsatisfactory’. Taken together with other responses, it is clear that communication 

around important issues such as treatment options is not ideal. This variation in reported 

standards of care suggests that more needs to be done to ensure the best standards in 

all parts of the country. 

The large majority of people want to be involved in decisions around their treatment 

and care. Including people in discussions about their treatment and care is 

fundamental to good healthcare, and a good partnership between patients 

and physicians can result in benefits, such as improved adherence to 

medications, which may in turn mean that treatment is more effective. 

It makes sense for patients and healthcare teams to work 

together – and we must find ways to do this better.

Healthcare professionals’ communication  

was rated as “exemplary” by 

33%

 of 


respondents, but 

10%

 had a “totally 

unsatisfactory” experience

 

Totally 

unsatisfactory



Exemplary

Proportion of  

patients  

surveyed (%)

33,6

30,0

7,3

10,9

18,2

2

4

Better partnerships are needed to improve 

communication and joint decision making 

between patients and physicians

Healthcare professional’s communication in writing, in person or by 

phone (data based on 110 responses) 

3


6

HCV Quest 

Toolkit


Driving change in your country to transform 

the lives of people with hepatitis C 

How can you use this report? Our suggestions: 

The HCV Quest country report is a resource that we 

hope you can use to support:

ADVOCACY 

– with the media, government, healthcare 

professionals

To improve the government and health service response to 



hepatitis C

To raise the profile of hepatitis C within government and 



the general population

To reduce stigma and discrimination



COLLABORATION

 – with the media, government, 

healthcare professionals and patients 

To highlight the 



impact 

of specific issues in your country 

To offer 



support and advice 

on addressing the issues



Improve awareness and understanding of hepatitis C

Use the survey data to communicate clearly to governments 



and medical professionals the true impact of hepatitis C and 

the importance of awareness about:

- Unseen burden on mental/psychological and emotional 

health


- Personal and social costs of untreated disease

- Impact of stigma and discrimination on personal and 

professional life

Offer the media expertise and access to survey facts 



& figures and patient stories to highlight the burden 

associated with hepatitis C infection 

Hold governments accountable to WHA63.18, in which 



they committed to using World Hepatitis Day to improve 

public awareness

Offer to collaborate on or support government campaigns 



such as partnering for World Hepatitis Day

Improve testing and information available at diagnosis

Highlight the report’s data on missed opportunities for 



testing and urge governments to improve awareness of 

symptoms among healthcare professionals 

Use country and regional comparisons in the report to 



show how practices in some countries such as routine 

testing has improved early detection and treatment 

outcomes

Advise government on the type of information and 



materials to provide, and collaborate with governments and 

healthcare professional to produce materials

Highlight the lack of information available and offer to 



cooperate with medical professionals to ensure sufficient 

information and support is provided to patients at 

diagnosis, including access to patients groups, e.g. ask for 

patient group contact details to be included on government 

materials and websites of national organisations such as 

liver groups 



7

End social stigma and discrimination

Use quotes and findings from the report to highlight the 



life-changing impact stigma and discrimination can have

Develop a body of evidence on discrimination through 



further research, such as running your own online survey

Use data from the report to lobby governments to 



tackle discrimination through specific anti-discrimination 

legislation



Empower patients and increase involvement in 

treatment decisions

Ensure doctors’ surgeries and hospitals have patient group 



contact details and information

Inform patients themselves about their right to be involved 



in treatment decisions, e.g. run workshops, provide patient 

information on websites, or through leaflets

Educate physicians on the benefits of patient 



partnerships such as better adherence or more 

resources – engage physicians from other therapy 

areas where this has been successful to propose this 

discussion



8

Cure would mean… I could 



make plans instead of living 

from day to day



Cure would mean… 



freedom and an immense 

victory


Cure would mean… Relief, 



freedom, no longer being 

constantly tired, opening up to the 

outside world, really finding myself



HCV Quest Country-Specific Report



HCV Quest was supported by sponsorship from AbbVie



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