Leading by example

Mohamed Badereldin, Monday 26 Sep 2022

With its unprecedented track record in combating hepatitis C, Egypt is a major participant in the UN-sponsored alliance of countries battling the disease.

Egypt has made astonishing progress combating the hepatitis C
Egypt has made astonishing progress combating the hepatitis C


Egypt’s Minister of Health Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar attended on  Tuesday 20 September the Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination (CGHE) meeting held in New York on 20 September 2022. The CGHE meeting aims to call for the formation of a UN Group of Friends dedicated to eliminating Hepatitis C.

The coalition, formed in 2019 by the Atlanta-based Task Force for Global Health, works to spearhead global efforts to combat hepatitis in over 150 countries. The meeting brought together UN representatives, ministers of health and health leaders from over 20 nations committed to working together to achieve the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) goal of eradicating hepatitis by 2030.

Egypt has made astonishing progress combating the hepatitis C (HCV), a disease endemic in Egypt since the 1960s.

Campaigns combatting hepatitis began in 2006 with the creation of the National Committee for the Control of Viral Hepatitis. To date, more than 50 million Egyptians have been screened for HCV, and more than four million have received treatment. The success of Egypt’s 2018 campaign, specifically targeting HCV, made Egypt the first country in the world to completely eradicate the virus.

Ahmed Hassanein, a fellow at the University of Arkansas for medical sciences, said the 2018 campaign was unprecedented in terms of scale, speed, and results. “The success of the campaign built on nearly two decades of groundwork laid down by Egyptian healthcare workers, and a renewed commitment by the Egyptian administration to neutralise this major public health threat,” noted Hassanein.

“Egypt’s Ambitious Strategy to Eliminate Hepatitis C Virus: A Case Study”, a report published in Global Health: Science and Practice, found that in 2008 one in 10 Egyptians between the ages of 15 and 59 had chronic HCV infection and 15 per cent of the population had HCV antibodies, suggesting they had been exposed to the virus.

According to the paper, Egypt launched its first national HCV control programme in 2008, with an emphasis on increasing access to care. Its second national HCV mitigation plan began in 2014 with a focus on prevention, awareness, and better patient care for HCV patients.

Adults over the age of 18 were subsequently offered screenings for non-communicable illnesses and hepatitis C as part of the 100 Million Healthy Lives programme, introduced in 2018. Egypt also began a programme to participate in the treatment of hepatitis C in other African states.

 “The Egyptian experience can be replicated in other countries,” says Hassanein. “Egypt’s investment in scientific research, and its drug producing capacity which combined have significantly lowered drug prices, can serve as a blueprint to other countries with limited resources.”

Egypt’s success in combating hepatitis C was due to a complete shift in policy, Hassanein continues. “What Egypt did differently this time around was to deal with the problem on multiple fronts. It instituted infection control measures, educated the public, and provided a national no-fee screening and treatment network.”

Before the national programme to eradicate hepatitis C, which is a significant factor in the development of liver cancer and other serious ailments, the virus was to blame for large proportion of fatalities in Egypt.

Lessons learned from Egypt’s successful programme were included in the WHO’s Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis 2016-21 as part of the ongoing campaign to achieve the 2030 elimination target.

   *A version of this article appears in print in the 22 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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