As more than a million Egyptians, Ahmed Nada suffered from hepatitis C before finding the path to healing in a country that has become a global destination for patients seeking treatment.
The 31-year-old man contracted the disease by accident when he wanted to donate his blood.
Previously, hepatitis C contamination, even when diagnosed, would have been barely addressed or even treated. But a cheap new drug produced in Egypt since 2015 and a government program to eradicate the virus has enabled Mr. Nada to be treated easily.
The first day we had 100,000 patients... and the following week 50,000 a day.
“At first, I was very angry,” recalls Nada, referring to when he learned he had hepatitis C.
He enrolled at a government site dedicated to patients suffering from this disease and was then referred to the nearest health center.
Today healed like 1.3 million Egyptians, Mr Nada says that the whole process was simple “from the moment of registration”.
Very attractive price
Egypt has long sheltered the highest level of hepatitis C prevalence in the world, an epidemic triggered in the 1950s as a result of a national program of massive vaccinations with non-sterilized syringes.
About 20% of patients with this blood-borne virus, which can lead to liver cancer and cirrhosis, recover without needing treatment, but others may remain infected for more than 30 years without symptoms.
“Almost all Egyptian families are affected,” said Henk Bekedam, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), in a 2014 report on the disease, which killed 40,000 Egyptians a year.
Since 2006, Egypt has been investigating the spread of the epidemic and is negotiating low prices to import medicines.
First step: US pharmaceutical company Gilead developed Sovaldi, a drug approved by the FDA, the US Food and Drug Administration in 2013.
Egypt has managed to negotiate a price reduction of this expensive treatment, estimated at $ 84,000, or $ 1,000 for a tablet.
The National Committee for the Control of Viral Hepatitis then set up an Internet site for patient registration which was an immediate success.
“The first day we had 100,000 patients… and the following week 50,000 a day,” said Manal Hamdy el-Sayed, a founding member of the committee.
A new milestone was reached when Egypt launched the drug in 2015 on its own soil, further reducing the price of treatment to 1,485 pounds (about 70 euros), reports the executive director of the committee Kadry al-Said.
For its part, an Egyptian company, Tour N’Cure, took advantage of the low cost of treatment to attract patients from countries where the drug remains unaffordable.
For 7,000 dollars (about 5,900 euros), she offers the flight, a stay of one week, blood tests and treatment, and even five days devoted to tourism in Egypt.
This company claims that this amount represents about 8% of the price of treatment alone applied elsewhere, as in the United States.
The patients go home with medical follow-up and the rest of the medicines in their pockets.
“We look after patients from almost every country,” said Mostafa el-Sayed, CEO of Tour N ‘Cure, owned by the Egyptian pharmaceutical company Prime Pharma.
“The treatment worked from the first five days,” said Mirel Dâmboiu, a 59-year-old Romanian, who came to Egypt on the advice of his family.
Mr. Dâmboiu will carry out a final cycle of treatment in September, before a battery of tests.
With this new treatment, “we no longer fear” hepatitis C, says Sayed, who says however worry about one thing: the fact that “patients are not aware of being infected “.
According to Said, the government is indeed looking for three million Egyptians who would carry the virus without knowing it.