Millions flock to free tests as Egypt seeks to eradicate hepatitis C

A health agent prepares a vaccine. (Photo: Reuters)
Updated 03 December 2018
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Millions flock to free tests as Egypt seeks to eradicate hepatitis C

  • “I thought, ‘I should go too’,” Mabrouk said, speaking at a clinic in the Mit Nama village near Cairo
  • Egypt is carrying out an unprecedented campaign to detect and treat the disease in a bid to eliminate it by 2022

MIT NAMA: When Houaida Mabrouk heard about a government campaign that offers free hepatitis C screenings, she hesitated, afraid of testing positive. But after many from her community started visiting health clinics to get checked, she changed her mind.
“I thought, ‘I should go too’,” Mabrouk said, speaking at a clinic in the Mit Nama village near Cairo before learning she did not have the virus.
Egypt, which has the highest rate of hepatitis C in the world, is carrying out an unprecedented campaign to detect and treat the disease in a bid to eliminate it by 2022. It aims to test the entire adult population — about 50 million people.
Nearly 4.4 percent of adult Egyptians are infected and about 40,000 die of the disease every year, making it the country’s third leading cause of death, according to the World Bank.
The campaign, which runs from October to April, also tests for diabetes and high blood pressure.
“They are eliminating Egypt’s two biggest health problems: Virus C and all the danger factors including the basic non-communicable diseases,” said Jean Jabbour, the World Health Organization’s representative in Egypt.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a blood-borne virus. Most cases can be cured with antiviral medicine, but many do not initially show symptoms. If left untreated the virus can cause cirrhosis or liver cancer.
In Egypt, many were infected decades ago when poorly sterilized needles were used as part of a national treatment campaign against schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms.
Most donated blood is still not effectively screened, according to a recent World Bank report.
At least 11.5 million people have been screened in the new campaign, with 5 percent testing positive.
Large banners bearing health information and a picture of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi appeared in many Cairo streets as the campaign came to the capital on Saturday.
The campaign, which also treats those infected for free, is mainly funded by the World Bank. The bank has provided $133 million for the tests and $129 million for the treatment, according to a cabinet statement.
Due to lack of health clinics, some churches, mosques and youth centers also offer the blood test.
A church in the village of Begam, which like the Mit Nama village is in the Qalyubia province north of Cairo, serves as a health clinic every Sunday.
“This initiative should have taken place much, much earlier, but it is good that the president thought of it now,” said Ashyaa Abd Al-Sayed, pastor at the church.
Unless the population is tested and treated in a single campaign, the disease won’t be eliminated, said Health Minister Hala Zayed.
“If you only test and treat parts of the population... then those who weren’t treated might infect others,” she said.
Globally, an estimated 71 million people suffer chronically from hepatitis C.


Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

Updated 23 May 2019
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Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

  • Israel reduced the fishing limit to 10 nautical miles
  • The countries agreed to 20 nautical miles in the Oslo accords of 1990s

JERUSALEM: Israel reduced the offshore fishing limits it imposes for vessels operating out of Gaza from Thursday after Palestinians floated balloons fitted with incendiaries over the border, officials said.
The cut came just two days after Israel restored the limits to those set in April ahead of an Israeli general election.
“A decision was taken this Wednesday evening to reduce the fishing zone off the Gaza Strip to 10 nautical miles until further notice,” said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.
“The decision was taken after the launch of incendiary balloons from Gaza toward Israel,” it added.
Palestinians in Gaza have frequently floated balloons fitted with firebombs over the border to damage Israeli property and have in the past succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland.
Israel banned fishing completely when two days of deadly violence erupted earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following a truce.
The 15-nautical-mile limit that had been restored on Tuesday was the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.
But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.
Israeli authorities have not said whether the 15-mile limit was one of the understandings reached as part of the May 6 cease-fire in Gaza but Israel media reported on Monday that it was.
The additional nautical miles are important to Gaza fishermen as they bring more valuable, deeper water species within reach.
Four Israeli civilians and 25 Palestinians, including at least nine militants, were killed in this month’s exchanges across the border.