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Fight against Hepatitis C should be regional, Abu Dhabi conference hears

Hepatitis C can be eliminated as a public health threat by 2030 if tackled regionally, audiences heard this weekend at the International Society of Addiction Medicine conference in Abu Dhabi.

The World Health Organisation global health sector strategy requires the reduction of new Hepatitis C infections by 90 per cent.

The WHO had previously called for an urgent global response and comprehensive public health approach to treat people at all levels of society.

“We have heard today that this is not an easy goal and sometimes it seems almost impossible,” said Hannu Alho, a professor of addiction medicine at the University of Helsinki. “What is the reason for that? It’s a hidden disease and sometimes patients do not know they are infected.”

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C but more than 95 per cent of patients can be completely cured within three months of treatment with antiviral medication. Yet only 20 per cent of those with hepatitis C knew they have the virus. Its symptoms may not be apparent for years.

The blood born virus is normally passed through exposure to small quantities of blood, often by injection drug use needles, unsafe health care and the transfusion of unscreened blood.

In the UAE, statistics from the National Rehabilitation Centre indicate that about 60 per cent of intravenous drug users have hepatitis C.

Patients at the centre found to be positive receive counselling and medical treatment for Hepatitis C, a policy that has been in place since the centre opened in 2002.

However, experts cautioned that problem must be tackled regionally.

“If you’re treating this successfully in the Gulf and you’re not focusing the intense exchange with neighbouring countries, like Pakistan and Egypt, then you will not successfully treat this illness,” said Dr Stephan Walcher, an addiction specialist from Concept Center for Addiction Medicine in Munich, Germany.

“An integrated approach is needed.”