November 9, 2010
With 9.8 percent of its population infected, Egypt has the world's highest incidence rate for hepatitis C. Health experts and researchers, however, believe the true figure could be as high as 20 percent.
A recent study found more than 500,000 new hepatitis C virus infections occur annually in Egypt, primarily due to poor medical hygiene and inadequate oversight. "Nearly seven out of every 1,000 Egyptians acquire HCV infections every year. This is the highest level of HCV transmission ever recorded at a national level for a disease transmitted by use of non-sterile medical instruments," said Dr. F. DeWolfe Miller, the study's lead author.
Poor treatment access compounds the problem. "Medication costs for every hepatitis C patient stand at an average of 70,000 Egyptian pounds (US $12,250), and the government has failed to provide this sum for most of the patients," said Dr. Lofti Wanees, a hepatitis expert.
"There are also the deals signed between the Ministry of Health and medicine companies," continued Wanees. "Many [HCV] medicines produced by Egyptian pharmaceutical firms are not verified in the West and proved to be inefficient. But they are still being prescribed to patients, and the government pays millions of pounds to purchase them." Poor and uninsured patients often resort to superstitious and primitive medical substitutes that can exacerbate their condition, he said.
Egypt's high prevalence dates back to the 1970s, when health authorities injected patients with tartar emetic to stop the spread of bilharzia, a water-borne disease. Many of the needles were unsterilized, spreading HCV to thousands of people.
The study, "Evidence of Intense Ongoing Endemic Transmission of Hepatitis C Virus in Egypt," was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2010;107(33):14757-14762).