Egypt has stepped up efforts to control the spread of the viral disease Hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Egypt’s Minister of Health Ahmed Emad in a press statement announced the end of waiting lists for the treatment of Hepatitis C patients registered with his ministry across the country as of Thursday.
The minister said the medicine will be delivered to the patients directly as of Friday, adding that new patients will register their data through the website of the National Committee to Combat Viral Hepatitis without the need to join waiting lists.
The Viral hepatitis is a global health problem affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
An estimated 1.45 million people die annually from all types of viral hepatitis, mostly from liver disease and cancer caused by these infections.
In 2010, the World Health Organisation made World Hepatitis Day one of only four official disease-specific world health days, to be celebrated each year on July 28.
Millions of people across the world now take part in World Hepatitis Day, to raise awareness about viral hepatitis, and to call for access to treatment, better prevention programs and government action.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that predominantly infects the cells of the liver. This can result in inflammation and significant damage to the liver.
The minister also said that a total of 580,000 hepatitis C patients have been cured so far with estimated cost of 2.6 billion Egyptian pounds (about 300 million U.S. dollars).
The minister said the percentage of success of the treatment using the locally produced version of Sovaldi medicine has reached 97 percent.
“The number of treatment centers increased from 53 to 153 nationwide in an effort to end the waiting lists,” the minister said, adding that online registration helped reduce waiting period for issuing treatment orders from three months to less than a week.
In the meantime, Dr. Mohammed Saleh, deputy director of the National Institute of Endemic Diseases and Liver in Cairo, said most of the statistics revealed that the number of patients with virus C in Egypt ranges between 9-15 millions.
Egypt’s success in reducing the spread of hepatitis C is due to its ongoing treatment of the disease and prevention policies as well as starting to use new generations of medicines in September last year, he said.
“There are 5-6 new generation of orally administered drugs that were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Egyptian Ministry of Health in recent years that are available in Egypt now,” Saleh revealed.
He stressed that his institute has succeeded to treat half a million patients with these drugs in the last 18 months.
The American company Gilead Sciences was once the only source for an antiviral medication called Sovaldi, the main form of treatment for hepatitis C that was purchased in 2014 by Egypt at a reduced cost.
At the beginning of last year, a number of Egyptian companies started manufacturing medications similar to Sovaldi, a treatment that is reported to increase chances of survival by 90 percent and sold for much lower prices.
Thanks to these local companies, the price of hepatitis C treatment for each person dropped from 900 dollars in 2014 to less than 200 in 2016.
Speaking about the causes of spreading the virus in Egypt, Saleh said Egypt’s hepatitis C disease dates back to the 1980s when glass syringes used during a mass vaccination campaign for Bilharzia were not properly sterilized.
“Drug use, Healthcare exposure, shared personal items, Blood transfusion and body tattoos are among the reasons behind the spread of the virus,” he said.
He explained that HCV causes cirrhosis or liver cancer and other liver-related damages.
“Part of the problem is that hepatitis symptoms can take a long time to show,” he said. “People do not know they are infected until they develop serious liver disease.”
For his part, Dr. Mahmoud Allam, a consultant at the National Liver Institute of al-Minofiya University, hailed the government’s efforts to fight and eliminate the liver viruses, specially HCV.
“The cure rates have reached 98 percent after using the new medicines… the rates stood at 50 percent when we used interferon therapy,” he added.