30 million screened for hepatitis C in four months in Egypt

Keith Alcorn
Published:
11 April 2019
A mobile van delivers hepatitis C testing in Egypt. Image: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Egypt screened almost 30 million people for hepatitis C in the first four months of a national screening programme that kicked off in October 2018, Egyptian researchers announced at The International Liver Congress in Vienna on Thursday.

Egypt had the highest prevalence of hepatitis C in the world in 2008, said Wahed Doss, Head of Egypt’s National Commission for Control of Viral Hepatitis, but treated 2.5 million people by 2016 using direct-acting antivirals. Since then, momentum has begun to slow as the national treatment programme has treated almost all those diagnosed.

A national screening programme was launched in 2018 that aims to screen 62 million adults and 15 million adolescents by 2020.

The free hepatitis C screening programme is integrated with screening for diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. People diagnosed with hepatitis C receive a free 12-week course of treatment with generic versions of direct-acting antivirals. The drugs cost the Egyptian government US$45 per treatment course and the overall cost per cure including diagnostics is $75.

Rather than going door-to-door, the screening programme is offering testing at a combination of screening centres and mobile screening units at mosques, subway stations, sports grounds and factories. The country has been divided into three regions, each covered by up to 7000 screening sites that operate 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

People diagnosed with hepatitis C are booked for referral to a treatment centre and followed up if they don’t attend evaluation appointments. A total of 134 treatment centres provide hepatitis C treatment, delivered by 4000 staff.

The Egyptian screening programme reached 78% of the eligible population in areas where screening has already taken place. Screening identified 1.2 million people who were hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody positive, of whom 900,000 are chronically infected and in need of treatment. Overall, 4.5% of the screened population were HCV antibody positive but the prevalence of HCV antibodies rose to 12.5% in people aged 65 and over.

Dr Doss said that the scale of Egypt’s national treatment programme was a result of pressure from civil society and political will to eliminate hepatitis C, along with the low cost of generic direct-acting antivirals and mass procurement of drugs. Two million people are expected to start treatment by the end of 2019, he said.

Reference

Abdel-Razek W et al. The world’s largest hepatitis C screening programme in Egypt. The International Liver Congress, Vienna, abstract LBP-08, 2019.

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