Health & FitnessLife & Style

Professors highlight prevalence of Hepatitis C in Egypt, call for more funding

Gamal Esmat, professor of hematology and gastroenterology at Cairo University, believes that more attention must be paid to the prevention and treatment of Hepatitis C in Egypt.

“With a national prevalence rate of around 10 percent of the population, the Hepatitis C virus [HCV] is without a doubt the health challenge that tops Egypt’s national priorities,” said Esmat, at a press conference held on Wednesday by the National Committee for the Control of Viral Hepatitis (NCCVH). The event was organized to mark World Hepatitis Day, which is observed globally on 28 July.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 170 million people are infected with HCV worldwide. Egypt is among the countries with highest rate of infection worldwide.

During the event, participants shared information on progress achieved in treating Hepatitis C via the National Project, launched by the Health Ministry in April, involving the free distribution of anti-viral drugs. There was general agreement on the need to align government and civil efforts under the framework of a unified national initiative to raise more resources toward curbing Hepatitis C.

“The state allocates a substantial LE500 million annually for the treatment of HCV, but in order for the national treatment plan to succeed, it is imperative that the community at large, including civil society organizations, contribute to providing a much-needed additional LE500 million,” says Wahid Doss, dean of the National Liver Institute and head of the NCCVH.

The NCCVH has treated 150,000 HCV patients using globally approved drugs in compliance with international treatment guidelines. It has also succeeded in cooperating with manufacturing companies to provide global therapies at the lowest prices in the world, contributing tremendously to relieving the financial burden.

Eliminating discrimination against people infected with HCV, according to Esmat, is another important issue that needs to get more media attention.

“The committee has noticed that both the public and private sectors refuse to recruit infected people for fear of disease transmission,” he says. “Nobody has the right to deprive 10 percent of Egypt’s population from taking part in society for reasons that are not based on medical facts.”

HCV is transmitted through direct contact with virus-infected blood, either through using unsterilized blood products or unsterilized needles for creating tattoos. Male circumcision, which is widely practiced in Egyptian society, is another reason for the virus' prevalence.

Infection cannot be transmitted, though, by casual contact, such as shaking hands, coughing, sneezing or sharing eating utensils.

Doss echoes Esmat, saying that HCV patients are like diabetics; they do not suffer from any medical problems that prevent them from work. Only chronically infected people suffering from liver failure and cancer are unable to carry out work efficiently, due to their deteriorated health condition.

Doss also stresses that the virus is not fatal, as only around 20 percent of people who are exposed to the virus become chronically infected. “This is obvious in the mortality rate, which shows that approximately 40,000 infected people die of liver-related complications annually in Egypt, who represent less than one percent of HCV patients.”

“Early detection is essential because treatment in the early stage is most effective,” says Ayman Yousry, another professor of hematology and gastroenterology at Cairo University and member of the committee. He says that most people do not show any symptoms in the beginning, as chronic HCV is often asymptomatic over the first 20 or 30 years.

Based on the adage “prevention is better than cure", Mohamed Kamal Shaker, professor of hematology and gastroenterology at Ain Shams University, has announced that the committee will launch a media awareness campaign in the near future so that more people can learn about the virus.

Shaker also urged the media to take an active role in spearheading campaigns to educate the public on how to prevent the spread of HCV infection. A recent NCCVH revealed that one third of the population is unaware of the virus and how it is transmitted.

Related Articles

Back to top button