x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hepatitis C education crucial to cut high infection rate in Middle East and North Africa

Experts say nine million people in the Middle East and North Africa are infected with hepatitis C, a potentially deadly virus.

DUBAI // The Middle East and North Africa region has one of the highest rates of hepatitis C in the world, experts have revealed.

About nine million people in the region are believed to be infected with the potentially lethal virus, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.

In the UAE alone, about 14 in every 100,000 people will become infected at some point in their lives.

The figures were revealed during a conference in Dubai that brought together more than 200 doctors to discuss the virus, the best ways to manage it and the medical breakthroughs that may help to reduce its growing prevalence.

According to the World Health Organisation, about 150 million people globally are chronically infected with hepatitis C, and more than 350,000 people die from related liver diseases each year.

“Despite the progress and medical breakthroughs that have taken place over the last decade, hepatitis C transmission rates in the Mena region are still among the highest in the world,” said Ramsey Morad from the healthcare company MSD, which organised the conference.

“Education is crucial if we are truly to start addressing this epidemic.”

In the UAE, the virus is most prevalent in Abu Dhabi, according to MSD, and least common in Ajman.

Mazen Altaruti, the managing director of MSD Gulf, described the virus, which is mainly transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, as a “silent killer” as most patients show no symptoms until it has caused irreversible liver damage.

jbell@thenational.ae