WHO - World Health Organization

10/09/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/10/2023 12:20

Certification of reaching the gold tier on the Path to Elimination for HCV for Egypt

Organizers: EMRO

Your Excellency Prime Minister Dr Mostafa Madbouly,

Honourable Minister of Health and Population, Professor Khaled Abdel Ghaffar,

Honourable Ministers,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

As we meet in the shadow of the pyramids, we are reminded that many of the diseases that afflict humanity today have afflicted humanity for millennia.

In the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization here in Cairo is the mummy of Siptah, who ruled Egypt as a child in the 12th Century BCE, until he died aged around 16.

A deformity in his left foot suggests Siptah likely had polio.

Likewise, studies have suggested that King Tutankhamen may have died from malaria.

And Pharaoh Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti may both have died with tuberculosis.

By contrast, hepatitis C is a relative newcomer. Its existence was only recognised in 1975, but by that time, it was already widespread in many countries, including here in Egypt.

Globally, 58 million people are living with chronic hepatitis C infection.

Left untreated, hepatitis C can cause liver disease and cancer, and premature death.

While there is no vaccine, the disease can be cured with highly effective treatments that cost as little as 60 US dollars for an 8 to 12 week course of treatment.

However, these treatments are only effective when people seek them out, and when diagnosis is accessible.

And yet globally, 80% of people living with hepatitis C remain undiagnosed, and almost 90% remain untreated.

Here in Egypt, hepatitis C was ironically spread partly in the attempt to eliminate another disease - schistosomiasis.

Unsafe injection practices from the 1950s to the 1980s against schistosomiasis inadvertently and unknowingly infected an estimated 6 million Egyptians with hepatitis C.

Just ten years ago, Egypt had one of the highest rates of hepatitis C infection in the world.

Egypt's journey from that point to now being on the path to eliminating hepatitis C is nothing short of astounding.

The journey began after His Excellency President el-Sisi took office in 2014 and introduced a country-wide campaign offering free testing and treatment.

Known as the "100 million seha" campaign, which resulted in testing over 60 million people and treating more than four million.

A key factor in the campaign's success was using locally manufactured direct acting antiviral treatments.

Egypt also stepped up programmes on patient safety, injection safety, blood safety, and harm reduction for people who use drugs.

WHO supported the Health Ministry with technical guidelines and tools, providing a human-rights-based approach to hepatitis C diagnosis and treatment.

We also advocated for the inclusion of vulnerable groups such as refugees and migrants, helped to build the capacities of health workers, and supported community awareness campaigns.

As a result of all these efforts, Egypt has reduced the incidence of new infections by 97% in just eight years, bringing it very close to the ultimate goal of hepatitis C elimination.

On behalf on WHO, it is therefore my great pleasure to congratulate Egypt for becoming the first country to achieve "gold tier" status on the path to eliminating hepatitis C.

Egypt is an example to the world of what can be achieved with modern tools, and political and financial commitment at the highest level to use those tools to prevent infections and save lives.

Achieving Gold Tier status means you are very close to the finish line.

We encourage you to keep moving forward and to finish the job. And WHO will be with you every step of the way.

My congratulations once again to Egypt on this incredible achievement. Your success must give all of us hope and motivation to eliminate hepatitis C everywhere.

I thank you.