Hepatitis Challenge

In 2017, the WHO was actively calling upon countries to step up efforts to eliminate Hepatitis by 2030. Back then, Pakistan had the world’s second-highest prevalence of Hepatitis C, second only to Egypt. After 7 years, both countries have now exchanged positions on the list, with Egypt now being well on its way to eliminating the infection by 2030.

This should be a sobering wake-up call for the nation. There are around 8.8 million cases and half of these are being attributed to un­safe medical injections. This does not just speak volumes about how easily the infection has been spreading across the country but also shows the standards of cleanliness and sterilization being adhered to at our medical facilities.

That being said, the statistics can only convey so much information. Our healthcare system boasts some of the lowest prices for Hep C treatment globally, with a 12-week course of the two main medications costing only $33, compared to China, for example, where the course costs around $10,000. Accessibility and affordability of treatment are massive advan­tages for us to have; all that is left now is to shift our focus towards pre­ventative measures to stem the tide of new infections moving forward. Most patients are either diagnosed purely by incidence, or they present symptoms years after infection, so at the very least we need some level of awareness to be raised about the prevalence of the illness and the impor­tance of regular testing for individuals. Additionally, factors such as poor sterilisation techniques and poor infrastructure for infectious waste dis­posal must be fully addressed to curb transmission.

Luckily for us, Egypt’s success has provided us with an excellent blue­print to follow. Despite similar population demographics and develop­ment in urban centers, Egypt has made significant strides in combat­ing hepatitis C. Emulating Egypt’s success requires us to adopt the same comprehensive approach, centered around prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Screening of blood before transfusions, and promoting hy­gienic practices in dental and barber settings went a long way for the Egyptians, so it would be wise for us to follow suit in these areas as well.

A concerted effort from policymakers and healthcare professionals will be needed to ensure that we are making the right investments in our healthcare infrastructure. If we can complement our affordable treatments with robust preventative measures, it is safe to assume we can achieve the targets for 2030 set by the WHO.

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