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The Community added value of Centres of Expertise (CoE) and European Reference Networks (ERN) is particularly high for rare diseases (RD) due to the rarity of these conditions, which implies both a small number of patients and scarcity of expertise within a single country. Gathering expertise at the European level is therefore, paramount in order to ensure equal access to accurate information, appropriate and timely diagnosis and high quality clinical care and follow up for patients with rare diseases. This applies particularly to rare anaemias due to the high number of different rare diseases that constitute this group. In this context, the European Network for Rare and Congenital Anaemias (ENERCA), co-financed by the European Commission, was created in 2002 with the aim of prevention and management of rare anaemias (RA) and the development and promotion of policies to improve the well-being of European Union citizens. The ENERCA White Book is a position paper, developed as a deliverable of the ENERCA (phase 3) project that intends to contribute to the creation of a ERN in RA (ERN-RA) by preparation of the recommendations and, in particular, the definition of the criteria that CoE, local centres (LC) and their interrelations have to fulfil as healthcare providers. It has been nourished by all the activities that have been performed over the past ten years within the ENERCA framework. The White Book is addressed to authorities in charge of the identifying CoE, as an essential requirement for the official recognition of the ERN, to European and national health authorities, Healthcare centres and health professionals, as well as to all other stakeholders interested in RA. It is also addressed to the patients, as a way to empower their community in this process. One particular characteristic of the White Book is the integration of the three main aspects of a CoE: a) ethical and legal frameworks to ensure the non-discrimination and non-stigmatisation of rare disease patients across Europe, within their sphere of competencies; b) clinical and laboratory frameworks for defining technical and quality criteria including scope, general and disease specific elements currently defined as technical and professional standards for the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of patients with RA; and c) the expectations patients have of CoE. Conceived as a working tool directed to a broad range of stakeholders, the White book has been designed and structured to be comprehensible even to non-technical and /or non-professional audiences. The reader will find an up-to-date description and epidemiological information on RA as well as the European Union background policies for defining CoE and ERN-RA. A working group was created with experts of different profiles, known as the European Working Group on Rare Anaemias (EGRA). In order to achieve its objectives, the methodology used by EGRA, was characterised by three main principles: Interdisciplinary, European coverage, and evidence-based principles. Work has been developed into four sequential steps: 1. Analysis of the current situation of RA in Europe by healthcare professionals in order to identify the most relevant issues that have to be addressed by a centre in order for it to be recommended as CoE. 2. Preparation of questionnaires to perform surveys on how the relevant issues identified in step 1 can be translated into practical recommendations. 3. Analysis of the questionnaire results by face to face meetings, feedback and consensus evaluation, and 4. Preparation of a report on ENERCA policy recommendations for CoE. This report is presented in a user-friendly format, easy to understand and available through the ENERCA website (www.enerca.org). Several important conclusions can be drawn from the ENERCA White Book, including the importance of laboratories involved in the diagnosis of RA, patient oriented and multidisciplinary care at the CoE, the need for coordination and cooperation within and outside the centre, the provision of information to patients and health professionals and the involvement of public authorities at the national and European levels. Official recognition of this structure and assurance of its long term sustainability will only be achieved if public authorities work hand by hand with both professionals experts in different disciplines and patients. Finally, the ENERCA White book aims to be a practical tool for health authorities of Member States (MS) that are preparing their national directory of formally designated CoE. For this, it is important that MS authorities recognise RA as an important health component to be included within the National Plans or Actions for Rare Diseases.
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