“The implementation of the Egyptian initiative to eliminate hepatitis C among one million Africans will have a significant impact on bilateral and multilateral relations,” says Amany Al-Tawil, director of the Africa programme at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
Egyptian-African cooperation on health and humanitarian concerns has a deep impact on relations on the political level, she adds.
The initiative was introduced early this year within the framework of Egypt’s chairmanship of the African Union.
Providing health service to our African brothers, says Al-Tawil, is a duty that will extend beyond Egypt’s 12-month chairmanship of the AU.
The Ministry of Health announced last week that a meeting had been held, attended by representatives from the ministries of health, foreign affairs and major drug companies, to review the rollout of the initiative.
Wahid Doss, the head of the National Committee for the Control of Viral Hepatitis (NCCVH), told reporters that the initiative targets 18 African countries and will initially focus on hepatitis C, later expanding to include treatment of hepatitis B.
“The cost of medication per patient, using local products, will be LE800, compared to LE80,000 when US or European products are used,” he said.
Egypt will provide technical support, expertise, screening tools and free treatment for one million African nationals with hepatitis C.
The initiative is being implemented with the support of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) country offices which will act as technical leaders, coordinating between the 18 states and Egypt, according to the WHO’s John Jabbour.
“WHO will also provide support for coordination meetings to be held during the implementation steps to achieve the desired goal — to eliminate hepatitis by 2030,” he told the media last week.
WHO hopes to eliminate hepatitis B and C by combining treatment with prevention.
Minister of Health Hala Zayed first unveiled the Egyptian initiative to treat one million Africans for hepatitis C in January, beginning with Nile Basin countries which have an estimated 3.7 million hepatitis C patients, 30 per of Africa’s total.
Zayed met with WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the WHO headquarters in Switzerland to discuss ways to apply Egypt’s successful hepatitis C experience to other African countries. They agreed that the WHO will provide technical assistance and training while Egypt sends medical teams and medication.
By February the Ministry of Health had established 13 centres to treat African nationals with hepatitis C.
Since the initiative encompasses refugees living in Egypt, the Ministry of Health is preparing an e-system for their registration.
The initiative includes Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, all of which have high hepatitis rates, often fuelled by unsafe injection practices within health facilities or communities.
More than 200,000 people in the WHO African region die of complications from viral hepatitis B and C each year.
The initiative follows Egypt’s successful campaign to detect and treat millions of its own nationals suffering from hepatitis C.
In February alone, Zayed said, 30,375 million citizens had been screened for virus C as part of the campaign across Egypt.
The three-phase campaign, between October 2018 and April 2019, is part of an ongoing attempt to eliminate the disease in Egypt by 2022.
In 2015 the WHO found that Egypt had the highest prevalence of hepatitis C in the world. Twenty-two per cent of Egyptian blood donors tested positive for the disease, and more than 40,000 people each year dies of liver failure and liver cancers associated with the disease.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Towards a hepatitis-free continent