Monday, July 15, 2024

For seven years, Sulemana Musah put almost every bit of money that came his way into his war with hepatitis C.

His student loans for graduate school, his salary from his job as a high school teacher and the cash he earned from a side gig selling yams all went to tests and medicines to try to cure the virus that debilitated him. Mr. Musah, 27, who lives in Accra, the capital of Ghana, set aside dreams of starting a business, building a house, getting married. He scraped together enough cash — $900, half his annual salary — to buy a course of the drugs that, a decade ago, began to revolutionize hepatitis C treatment in the United States and other high-income countries. He was the rare patient for whom that treatment wasn’t enough, so for years he tried, unsuccessfully, to save enough for another. “I was left just waiting for God to do his wonders,” he said. Then in March, his doctor gave him extraordinary news: The Ghanaian government had received a donation of medications for hepatitis C. He could have treatment for free. Within weeks, Mr. Musah had the pills. In October, a blood test showed he was cured at last. He was broke, exhausted — and ready to dust off his ambitions.

The donation came from a most unlikely source: Egypt, which only a few years ago had the world’s highest burden of hepatitis C. An estimated one in 10 people, about nine million Egyptians, were chronically infected. In a public health campaign extraordinary for both its scale and its success, Egypt screened its entire population, brokered a deal for hugely discounted drugs and cured almost everyone with the virus.“This is one of the greatest accomplishments ever in public health,” said Dr. John W. Ward, the director of the Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination at the Task Force for Global Health. Egypt is on track to be the first country to achieve the World Health Organization goal of eliminating hepatitis C, and it is leveraging that victory into a campaign of “health diplomacy,” pledging to donate drugs and share expertise, with the goal of treating a million African patients. It is an unusual gesture in the world of global health, where largess is typically delivered to developing countries from high-income nations.

“The Egyptian government saw an opportunity to extend its expertise beyond its borders and contribute to global health efforts,” said Khaled Ghaffar, Egypt’s minister of health and population. “This health diplomacy allows Egypt to leverage its success with hepatitis treatment for the greater benefit of humanity while simultaneously enhancing its standing among the global community.” Globally, about 58 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C, according to the W.H.O., and the vast majority — 50 million — live in low- and middle-income countries. Four in five people don’t know they have the disease. …

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