Saudi screening program targets hepatitis virus

The Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) plans to treat 10,000 patients annually in a bid to eradicate hepatitis C by 2030.

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. Nurses wheel a patient in the emergency department at Al-Noor Specialist Hospital in Mecca September 30, 2014.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Nurses wheel a patient in the emergency department at Al-Noor Specialist Hospital in Mecca September 30, 2014.

REUTERS/ Muhammad Hamed

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia has revealed details of a wide-ranging campaign to eradicate hepatitis C as it joins the World Health Organization (WHO) to mark World Hepatitis Day on July 28.

The annual day of action helps to raise global awareness of hepatitis, and encourages prevention, diagnosis and treatment to eradicate the serious health problems caused by the disease.

The Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) plans to treat 10,000 patients annually in a bid to eradicate hepatitis C by 2030.

The infectious disease is caused by a virus that primarily affects the liver.

During the initial infection, people often have mild or no symptoms. However, without treatment, the virus can result in liver failure, cancer, or even death.

The MoH and AbbVie, a global biopharmaceutical company, on Wednesday renewed their partnership in the battle against the hepatitis C virus.

In 2016, Etmaen, a campaign to foster public awareness of hepatitis C, was launched in 10 cities across the Kingdom.

The next phase of the initiative will focus on education, screening, diagnostics and treatment.

Commenting on the Etmaen initiative, Abdullah Assiri, the assistant deputy minister for preventive health said: “Our efforts are focused on continuing to improve the current standards of care in the Kingdom in line with our aim to eliminate the virus by 2030.”

The MoH focuses its efforts on discovering undiagnosed cases in the community and then referring patients for treatment.

“The MoH is committed to screening 100,000 people in 2018,” said the minister.

“The ministry has increased the number of hospitals and health care centers which specialize in the treatment of hepatitis C, along with the number of physicians, which enables us to have realistic targets of treating 10,000 patients annually,” he said.

Besides 25 main hospitals, the MoH is expanding treatment to 48 primary health care centers across the Kingdom.

AbbVie will start a campaign aimed at educating primary health care physicians about diagnosis and treatment for hepatitis C. It will also support the MoH by following up with all diagnosed HCV patients through a hotline number 937. 

The company is hosting screening sessions in primary health care centers across the Kingdom, using a painless, non-invasive test to assess the stage of liver disease in patients.

Commenting on the partnership, Rami Fayed, AbbVie regional vice president for the Middle East and Africa, said: “We are committed to supporting the MoH in its efforts to make a remarkable impact on patients lives in Saudi Arabia.”

According to the WHO, viral hepatitis B and C are major health challenges, affecting 325 million people globally and leading to 1.34 million deaths every year. 

At least 60 percent of liver cancer cases are due to late testing and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C. 

Low coverage of testing and treatment is the most important gap to be addressed in order to achieve the global elimination goals by 2030.

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