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Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 23:11 GMT
Egypt's health campaign 'spread hepatitis'
Needles
Needles were not properly sterilized during the campaign
By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

New research published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, has revealed that a huge campaign in Egypt decades ago to eradicate the waterborne parasite, bilharzia, was the cause of another major health problem, hepatitis C, which is now endemic in the country.

Bilharzia used to be Egypt's biggest public health problem, affecting villagers the length of the Nile.

Now, according to the Health Ministry, the major problem is hepatitis C, which has spread dramatically, in a tragic irony, as a result of the campaign against bilharzia.

bilharzia worm
The eggs of parasitic worms cause bilharzia
The spokesman for the Egyptian Health Ministry, Taha al-Khubbi, said officials first noticed a link between the blood-borne hepatitis C and bilharzia, which lurks in slow-moving waters, about 10 years ago.

Now researchers have established the connection.

Dirty needles

Between the 1950s and 1980s, before other drugs became available, medication for bilharzia was administered by injection, and the needles were routinely re-used without proper sterilization.

Dr al-Khubbi told the BBC that the dangers of diseases like hepatitis were not known at the time.

He said the Egyptian Health Ministry introduced disposable needles about 10 years ago, but he said hepatitis was still being transmitted by drug-users, dentists and through razors used in barber shops.

The disease is a major burden on the Egyptian economy. According to Dr al-Khubbi, each patient costs between $1,000 and $2,000 to treat.

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