With the highest rate of Hepatitis C on the planet, Egypt is now making great efforts to eradicate the disease in the north MENA regions. Hep C is a disease that costs the country thousands of lives and millions of dollars.
Egypt is believed to have the largest prevalences of the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) in the world, with 7% of the population – approximately eight million people – infected.
Egypt’s rampant history with the disease originated in the 1960s when a widespread government campaign to treat Egyptians suffering from schistosomiasis (known locally as bilharzia) went very, very wrong.
Unsterilised needles were used to inject millions of villagers across the country. These were likely contaminated with the blood-borne HCV and resulted in the current epidemic.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection, and the majority of them (in low-income countries) lack access to life-saving testing and treatment. This was true for Egypt until recently.
The WHO also noted that the virus kills an estimated 40 000 Egyptians each year and at least 1 in 10 of the population aged 15 to 59 is infected.
According to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, in 2015 the total economic burden of HCV in Egypt was estimated at $3.81 billion, equivalent to 1.4% of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
So how has Egypt changed the narrative?
In 2014, Egypt’s Ministry of Health released the “Plan of Action for the Prevention, Care & Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, Egypt 2014-2018”
The plan focuses on seven main components of viral hepatitis prevention and control: surveillance, infection control, blood safety, HBV vaccination, care and treatment, communication, and research.
Since the plans release a reported 1.8 million HCV patients have been treated with an efficacy rate of around 98%.
As part of the plan, In 2014, Egypt reached an agreement with Pharma giant Gilead Sciences, to purchase Sovaldi (a new course of medication to treat HCV) at a greatly discounted price.
As a result of the deal, the highly effective, direct-acting antiviral treatment, became available in Egypt for just $900 — a 99% reduction of the $84 000 it is sold for elsewhere — At this price, treating the entire infected Egyptian population would have cost half a trillion dollars, nearly double the country’s gross domestic product.
In conjunction with this, the MoH offered the treatment for free or through medical insurance due to the epidemics prevalence in rural, poverty-stricken areas.
Having secured affordable drugs, the nation has become a model example of what can be achieved when large-scale treatment campaigns are implemented. Since 2013, more than 1.6 million Egyptians have received lifesaving medication — that amounts to more than all the patients treated in the United States and Europe during that period combined.
More recently, Egypt has started to rely on even cheaper, locally produced generics that sells for approximately $83 while phasing out Sovaldi.
In 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of health also initiated a nationwide screening program through which more than 260 teams of community health workers go village to village testing people for the virus.
Egypt’s most recent efforts to eradicate Hepatitis C were announced on the 16th January 2019 by Hala Zayed, the countries MoH. The new initiative proclaimed plans to eradicate Hep C in Egypt and adjoining African countries by 2020.