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Business - November 18, 2019

Can Africa be the first to eliminate Hepatitis C?

Dr. Sherine.

By Dr Sherine Helmy, Pharco Pharmaceuticals

We have a rare chance as a continent to send a message to the whole world: Africa is the first to eliminate Hepatitis C.

This would also take the world one step closer to reach one of the targets of Goal 3 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – “Good health and well-being” –and end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and combat hepatitis and other communicable diseases by 2030.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations (UN) Member States, is a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030”.

The 17 SDGs recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth. The 17 SDGs are integrated and therefore also recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.

According to the UN good health is essential to sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda reflects the complexity and interconnectedness of the two. It takes into account widening economic and social inequalities, rapid urbanization, threats to the climate and the environment, the continuing burden of HIV and other infectious diseases, and emerging challenges such as non-communicable diseases.

Universal health coverage will be integral to achieving Goal 3, ending poverty and reducing inequalities.

However, the world is off-track to achieve the health-related goals and progress has been uneven.

In the case of hepatitis, viral hepatitis B and C affect 325 million people worldwide causing 1.4 million deaths a year. It is the second major killer infectious disease after tuberculosis, and nine times more people are infected with hepatitis than HIV. Data shows that viral Hepatitis B and C affect more than 71 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Hepatitis is preventable, treatable, and in the case of hepatitis C, curable. However, over 80% of people living with hepatitis are lacking prevention, testing and treatment services. Access to diagnosis and drug therapy is limited, particularly in low and middle-income countries where rising healthcare costs are a barrier, including Africa.

By locally producing medicine that could be used to treat patients at less than 1% of the cost in global markets, and in partnership with the government of Egypt, Pharco Pharmaceuticals successfully cured 1,5 million Hepatitis C patients by the end of 2017. Due to the Egyptian government’s efforts, the treatment became available at an affordable price and massive awareness and screening campaigns were executed all over the country aiming at eliminating the virus.

Other African countries are also taking action. Uganda has started free nationwide hepatitis B treatment, and Rwanda is providing free treatment for both hepatitis B and C. These two countries are championing the regional response and are on track to reach targets for testing and community awareness.

Work still needs to be done. Deaths from hepatitis have been increasing over the past two decades, which points to a lack of global awareness and action, including among top decision-makers.

The Hepatitis Scorecard for the WHO Africa Region shows that 28 countries have developed a national hepatitis strategic plan for viral hepatitis; however, most are still in draft form with only 13 officially published and disseminated.

On World Hepatitis Day (28 July) the WHO called on countries to take advantage of recent reductions in the costs of diagnosing and treating viral hepatitis and scale up investments in disease elimination.

Every year more than 200 000 people in Africa are dying from complications of viral hepatitis B and C-related liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

A new study by WHO found that investing US$6bn per year in eliminating hepatitis in 67 low- and middle-income countries would avert 4.5 million premature deaths by 2030, and more than 26 million deaths beyond that target date.

Africa’s development challenges need a swift, bold, and robust response, according to Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, convener of the Forum.

Africa’s health challenges also need a swift, bold, and robust response.

The World Health Organization (WHO) aims for 80% of people diagnosed with HCV to be put on treatment by 2030.

By creating awareness around hepatitis, and providing better prevention, testing and treatment, at affordable prices, Africa can be Hepatitis C free by 2030 in line with the WHO’s ambition.

By reaching our goal of “good health and well-being” we can also take one step closer at sustainable development, spurring on economic growth, and ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

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