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North-South Partnering Halves Hepatitis Treatment Cost in Cameroon 

By Divine Ntaryike Jr — There is twinkling hope for Cameroon’s over 2 million victims of Hepatitis C.  Treatment costs have been halved thanks to a partnership arrangement between the government and Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Hoffman-La Roche.

The deal inked in the capital Yaoundé on April 4 slashes global therapy costs of the viral illness from 8 million FCFA [about US$ 16,000] to 4 million FCFA. 

“Hoffman La Roche has agreed to offer us one of its two products, Ribavirin for free.  However, patients will still pay about 90,000 FCFA for Interferon which they take weekly for one year.  It previously cost 150,000 FCFA.  But they will not be paying for quarterly follow-ups,” Public Health Minister Andre Mama Fouda explained.

Medics warn Ribavirin may provoke blood problems like hemolytic anemia, which can lead to life-threatening heart attacks.  It must be used alongside Interferon for effective treatment.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver usually caused by infections from viruses, bacteria or parasites.  Consumption of alcohol and poisonous mushrooms, medicine overdose and liver attacks by the body’s immune body cells are also responsible. 

It occurs in four types; A, B, C, D and E.  Experts say while the A and E forms are usually less severe and short-term, Hepatitis B and C are silent killers.  Recently conducted surveys reveal Hepatitis C-deaths creeping past those blamed on HIV/AIDS.  Hepatitis B is more contagious than HIV, the WHO warns.

“They are usually only noticed at the chronic stage which implies patients contracted the illness at very tender ages.  In the worst instances, it may lead to sclerosis and liver damage, liver failure, or even liver cancer,” Prof Oudou Njoya of the Yaoundé University Teaching Hospital and Deputy President of the Cameroon Network for the Fight against Hepatitis explained.

Figures from the Cameroon Society of Gastroenterologists indicate prevalence rates of 10% for Hepatitis B and 13% for Hepatitis C.  “That places Cameroon second in Africa behind Egypt, which has a 13.5 percent Hepatitis C prevalence rate.  The government is really worried,” Fouda added. 

According to him, the situation is further compounded by the fact that close to 80% of Cameroonians, including carriers are ignorant of the disease. 

“I only discovered three years ago that I had Hepatitis C after I was initially treated for malaria but kept feeling the same pains.  I went for tests and it turned out I had the disease. I have not been able to save any substantial amount of money to begin treatment,” Jean Claude, a resident of the country’s largest city Douala said. 

He nonetheless saluted the convention reducing treatment costs, but feared he may never raise 4 million francs.

He said increasingly, he is confronted with abdominal pain, fatigue, itches, fever, jaundice, appetite loss, nausea and vomiting.  According to medics, these symptoms, including weight loss, dark urine and clay-colored stools are indicators the disease has advanced to the “chronic and very dangerous stage.”

Fouda said apart from huge treatment costs, strategies like early detection have been addressed in the agreement with Hoffman La Roche. 

“They will provide free screening for 10,000 people yearly and train some 457 personnel of the Ministry of Public Health over the next five years on rapid diagnosis and best therapy methods,” Mama Fouda added. 

Meantime, there are plans to set up more treatment centers nationwide.  Only the Yaoundé General Hospital currently boasts of one.