The Ministry of Health and Population this week launched a health initiative designed to control the transmission of diseases such as hepatitis C through beauty salons and barbers.
Launched in 17 governorates, the campaign aims to raise awareness on how to prevent the spread of hepatitis and eliminate possible routes of infection. Shared grooming items for hair or nails could be a source of infection if not well disinfected.
Inspections of beauty salons are among the measures undertaken by the ministry. Awareness-raising seminars for beauty salon employees have also been held to alert them to ways to halt the transmission of the hepatitis virus.
The health educators also informed the staff of beauty salons and barbers about the wrong, daily practices that facilitate the transmission of the virus and instructed them to put posters that include the campaign’s preventive instructions.
Mohamed Hassani, assistant minister of health for public health, announced that salons will face penalties, including losing their operating licences, for violating health regulations.
According to official figures, 60 million people in 27 governorates had medical check-ups as part of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s 100 Million Healthy Lives initiative to eradicate hepatitis C and detect chronic diseases.
Last September Al-Sisi said Cairo is seeking to extend the initiative, which began in Egypt in October 2018 and ended in April 2019, to other African states. As well as hepatitis, patients were assessed for diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity at health units and treatment centres.
Egypt will have no cases of hepatitis C by May 2020, Presidential Spokesperson Bassam Radi said in November 2019.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in March that the Egyptian government “has been able to provide free treatment to 88 per cent of all patients” in a country where 6.3 per cent of its roughly 100-million population were living with hepatitis C.
“In 2014, faced with one of the world’s largest hepatitis epidemics, the Egyptian government negotiated a landmark agreement which dramatically reduced the price of the largely inaccessible HCV wonder drug, Sofosbuvir, which — in combination with other drugs — can cure HCV in up to 97 per cent of all cases,” the WHO said in March 2019.
“Originally, the direct-acting antiviral [DAA] drug entered the market at $ 28,000 for a month supply. Egypt became the first country to negotiate an alternative price with the drug manufacturer, down to $300 for a month supply. Allowing for local generic competition drove the price down further to $23.”
Patients with hepatitis require special treatment in hospitals and during medical operations, said Soheir Farag, professor of anesthesia at Al-Azhar University.
“We take a number of preventive measures to stop the transmission of hepatitis among patients inside hospitals and medical centres,” said Farag. They include sterilisation of operating theatres and all medical tools and equipment.
Describing the campaign as “very successful”, Farag added that the main beneficiaries were people who could not afford the cost of medical treatment themselves.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.