x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Hepatitis C test offered for free

Free hepatitis C tests are being offered to 50,000 people, with doctors saying that many people with the disease, which can cause liver cancer, are unaware they have it.

DUBAI // Free hepatitis C tests are being offered to 50,000 people, with doctors saying that many people with the disease, which can cause liver cancer, are unaware they have it. According to Dr Adnan Hammour, a liver specialist at Abuhamour Medical Centre, at least 30 per cent of patients with hepatitis C do not know they have the disease. He estimated that 90 per cent of people with the condition are not being treated for it.

Although no recent figures are available, in 2002 the World Health Organisation estimated that up to 2.5 per cent of the UAE's population were infected. "Millions of people can reach their 40s and 50s, after having had the 'silent disease' for 10 to 20 years with mild symptoms, if any, and then find that it is so advanced that liver cancer or sclerosis has set in," Dr Hammour said. Symptoms of hepatitis C include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, and fatigue.

Last year the C-Watcher campaign screened 3,516 people from Ajman to Al Ain. Of them, 83, or 2.3 per cent, tested positive. "We don't want to scare people and make them panic, but early detection and treatment is important because it reduces the viral load until it can no longer be detected," Dr Hammour said. Dr Azzam Kayasseh, gastroenterologist at the Dr Kayasseh Medical Clinic in Dubai, said it was important to correct the misconception that the disease has no cure.

Treatment costs between Dh15,000 and Dh30,000. The Red Crescent Authority, the Dubai Charity Organisation and the Dubai Women's Association have been known to help pay for treatment. hkhalaf@thenational.ae