CAIRO, Oct. 4 (Reuters) - Egypt's health minister announced on Tuesday that more than 800,000 people have been treated for hepatitis C since January 2016, proof that the country's campaign preventing the spread of the disease is working well.
Speaking at an event that marked Egyptian Liver Day, Ahmed Rady told journalists that he expected Egypt to be free from the virus by 2020.
"Before the end of the year, God willing, we promise the Egyptian president and all of Egypt, that a million patients will have been treated. And we promise Egypt that 2020 will not see this country with one single Virus C patient,'' he said.
"This is an Egyptian celebration, and not a Health Ministry celebration, it's an Egyptian celebration, to end the waiting list for that disease and the treatment of 835,000 hepatitis C patients. We started in January 2016 and we were done with them in September 2016,'' he added.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 150 million people world-wide are chronically infected, most of them in developing countries, putting them at risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Egypt, which has the world's highest prevalence of the virus, following the use of poorly sterilized needles in campaigns dating back to the 1970s to stamp out the parasitic disease schistosomiasis.
In 2014 Egypt stepped up its efforts to treat the virus, which can take a long time to show due to the nature of the symptoms which include fatigue and sickness.
The aim was to treat 300,000 people a year.
The programme is being supported by the World Health Organisation, and WHO Director General, Margaret Chan, praised the country's work on combating the widespread disease.
"I want to commend the government for their strong commitment to provide affordable medicines for Egyptians, so the government has worked very hard, and with technical support from the World Health Organization to work with the originator company to negotiate the price down and now working with generic company, trying to make a medicine of equal safety, quality and efficacy,'' she said.
Like HIV, hepatitis C (HCV) can be spread through blood, often via contaminated needles or from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby.
Egypt has also invested in televised campaigns to raise awareness about the disease and ways to treat it.