A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, put the number of new Hepatitis C infections in Egypt at an average of half a million. This is far higher than any other country in the world.
Everyone always knew that Egypt has a serious epidemic of Hepatitis C. When someone visits a hospital, especially one of the public hospitals, there is a real danger of getting infected by the virus. However, the Ministry of Health has always played the numbers down. They have categorically refused international studies that cited high numbers of incidence or prevalence as ‘biased’.
So it wasn’t particularly surprising when Wahid Doss, head of the National Committee for the Control of Viral Hepatitis (NCCVH), came out against the numbers of the new report, saying new infections were closer to 100,00 (less than 20% of the number in the report).
The problem was that Doss did not offer an alternative, scientific study on which he based these numbers. And to make it worse, he refused to talk to any media organizations after that statement he gave to the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Granted, the new study doesn’t look too good, especially for the “control” part in the responsibilities of the NCCVH. However, that cannot be a reason to deny the new paper. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease. A lot of unhealthy habits, such as barbers in rural Egypt using the same scalpel for male circumcision of dozens of newborns, can spread the virus quickly. But the bulk of infections takes place through the healthcare system. That is why the continued epidemic is particularly embarrassing to the Ministry of Health. When the epidemic keep claiming so many people every year, you’d think something would’ve been done by now.
Half a million new infections of Hepatitis C – every year – is a huge number, especially for a blood-borne disease. The problem is that the continued denial of how serious the epidemic is in the country will not help. It will not up and go away this way.
The policy the government is taking right now is disturbingly similar to what happened with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The continued denial there led to an explosion of the epidemic which seems impossible to control right now. Those events should have been a lesson for everyone that denial is the biggest weapon a virus has.
If Egypt fails to learn the lesson that sub-Saharan Africa learned the hard way, I’m afraid the Hepatitis C epidemic is here to stay for quite a long time.