Amal* lost her husband to hepatitis C and knows how devastating it can be. Amal himself was later diagnosed with hepatitis C after attending a local screening. Later, her 23-year-old relative also discovered she had the disease.
“I am glad that my disease was discovered early and I received free treatment and follow-up services from the government. Mass screening and community-based campaigns have made a huge impact,” Amal said.
WHO’s global hepatitis strategy, endorsed by all WHO Member States, aims to reduce new hepatitis infections by 90% and deaths by 65% between 2016 and 2030.
A long history of ambitious government action
Egypt has one of the highest rates of viral hepatitis in the world. From the 1950s to the 1980s, while trying to control schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease carried by water snails, unintentional spread of infection related to unsafe injection practices occurred. More than 6 million Egyptians have become infected with hepatitis C this way. Thanks to years of coordinated government action, the country is now on the path to eliminating the disease. This is an amazing transformation.
From the early 1990s to the present, the government has invested a lot of energy in strengthening hepatitis prevention, including blood safety, infection control and injection safety projects. It also works to increase public awareness and develop harm reduction programmes. By 2015, an estimated 5.5 million people were chronically infected. The government acted with the strong and ambitious goal of completely eliminating hepatitis C.
Free testing and treatment for everyone
Egypt launched a network of specialized treatment centers in 2006, and with the discovery of new antiviral drugs in 2014, hepatitis testing and treatment became free for everyone. The approach follows the World Health Organization’s hepatitis treatment guidelines, which highlight the risks of untreated disease and promote testing and treatment.
In 2018, the government decided to launch an unprecedented large-scale campaign across the country to test and treat all people with hepatitis C and scale up elimination efforts. Years of efforts have been condensed into the “100 Million People Healthy Life Movement”, which is still continuing today.
Through the campaign, everyone over 18 was tested, which was later expanded to include children 12 and older. In addition to routine testing at all health facilities, the campaign also conducted community outreach, with teams visiting popular gathering places such as large squares, markets, workplaces, sports clubs, mosques and churches, and barber shops. Vulnerable groups such as refugees, immigrants and persons with disabilities are also included so that no one is left behind.
The campaign successfully tested more than 60 million people using WHO-approved rapid diagnostic tests. During the campaign, 2.2 million people tested positive for hepatitis C antibodies, and patients with chronic hepatitis C received treatment. Patients also received evaluation and treatment for other chronic conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes. Since the launch of this campaign, the cure rate for hepatitis C in Egypt has exceeded 98%.
WHO and governments continue to collaborate and work towards elimination of hepatitis
“Viral hepatitis kills thousands of people every year. The Ministry of Health and Population is committed to eliminating hepatitis C in our country, and we are optimistic about a healthy future for all,” said Egypt’s Minister of Health and Population Khalid Abdel Professor Ghaffar said.
WHO provides technical support to the Ministry of Health and Population to develop and implement the campaign. WHO also acts as an independent verifier, visiting screening sites across the country and conducting extensive patient surveys to ensure compliance with WHO guidelines and the delivery of quality services.
“Work closely with the Ministry of Health and Population and other partners to ensure that people living with hepatitis C in Egypt know their status and receive free treatment. This is a real step towards achieving universal health coverage,” said Dr. Naeema Al Gasseer, WHO Representative in Egypt .
*Names and ages have been changed for privacy reasons.