Rare diseases

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Legal framework: Articles 12 and 13 of Directive No. 2011/24

In the European Union, a rare disease is defined as one affecting fewer than 5 out of 10,000 members of the general population. Approximately 80% of rare diseases are genetic in nature.

Coverage and reimbursement

Patients affected or believed to be affected by a rare disease have the right to access medical care in another European Union or European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) member State and to be reimbursed pursuant to (CE) regulations N° 883/04 and 987/09, even if the diagnosis and/or the treatment received is not available in the patient's State of affiliation. However, this type of care in another EU or EEA member State is subject to prior authorization from the patient's State of affiliation (S2 certificate required).


The website www.orpha.net is the online portal for rare diseases and orphan drugs. Its aim is to help promote awareness of rare diseases among patients, their organizations, health professionals, researchers, and the general public. The information available pertains to European Union countries and, more generally, to the countries belonging to the international consortium Orphanet.

Orpha.net provides a number of free services, all of which are fully open-access:

"Maladies Rares Info Services"

"Maladies Rares Info Services" (www.maladiesraresinfo.org ; 01 56 53 81 36) is an information-providing and support service that specializes in rare diseases. It responds individually and in a non-identifying manner to the questions it receives (by telephone, email, postal mail or live chat) and provides information on:

European Reference Networks: 900 medical teams to connect across Europe for the benefit of patients

Article 12 of Directive No. 2011/24 incites the EU member States to create "European Reference Networks" (ENR) that join together existing healthcare providers and expert centers.

On 1 March the newly established European Reference Networks (ERNs) started their work.

ERNs are unique and innovative cross-border cooperation platforms between specialists for the diagnosis and treatment of rare or low prevalence complex diseases.

24 thematic ERNs, gathering over 900 highly specialized healthcare units from 26 countries, will begin working together on a wide range of diseases. Joining up of EU's best expertise on this scale should benefit to patients with diseases requiring a particular concentration of highly specialized healthcare in medical domains where the expertise is rare.

European Reference Networks (ERNs) are virtual networks bringing together healthcare providers across Europe to tackle complex or rare medical conditions that require highly specialized treatment and a concentration of knowledge and resources. They are being set up under the EU Directive on Patients' Rights in Healthcare (2011/24/EU), which also makes it easier for patients to access information on healthcare and thus increase their treatment options.

In practice, ERNs will develop new innovative care models, eHealth tools, medical solutions and devices. They will boost research through large clinical studies and contribute to the development of new pharmaceuticals, and they will lead to economies of scale and ensure a more efficient use of costly resources, which will have a positive impact on the sustainability of national healthcare systems, and on patients in the EU suffering from rare and/or complex diseases and conditions.

The ERNs will be supported by European cross-border telemedicine tools, and can benefit from a range of EU funding mechanisms.


Orphanet, Maladies Rares Info Services, Eurordis and Alliance Maladies Rares work with the  Fondation Maladies rares and AFM/Téléthon to form the Rare Disease platform "Plateforme Maladies Rares" (www.plateforme-maladiesrares.org), located at Broussais Hospital in Paris.