Egypt Promotes Medical Tourism for Hepatitis C Treatment

See the pyramids, get hepatitis C treatment? Egypt promotes medical tourism.

Egypt is promoting medical tourism for patients with hepatitis C.

In a major campaign, the Egyptian government is betting that Lionel Messi, a superstar on the soccer pitch, can persuade patients with hepatitis C in other countries who are frustrated by delays and high prices for antiviral drugs to travel to the North African nation to get affordable treatment.

Messi (photo) is a Futbol Club Barcelona legend who has been honored as the world’s best soccer player a record five times.

He spoke in Cairo in late February as the new global pitchman for a medical tourism initiative called Tour n’ Cure, imploring listeners to make the trip. "Let’s put an end to the waiting list," he said.

Tour n’ Cure says it treats clients "with no waiting time and at a fraction of the cost.’’ Patients visit ancient landmarks and stay at five-star hotels while undergoing therapy with internationally approved direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). The specific drug regimen depends on a patient’s profile.

Prime Pharma and its affiliate, Pharco Pharmaceuticals, an Alexandria-based generics maker, launched Tour n’ Cure last year along with Egyptian government ministries. Their effort comes as the country strives to address its internal hepatitis C epidemic. Egypt consistently ranks among the nations with the highest incidence of hepatitis C infections, with rates as high as 14.5%, according to the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. More than 200 million people around the world are infected with hepatitis C -- an overall incidence of about 3.3% of the population, the institute says. The liver attacking virus can cause death from cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Tour n’ Cure is reporting success in bringing the global hepatitis C rate down. It says it it cured almost one million people in Egypt in 2016. The group credits new DAA medicines that attack the hepatitis C virus at various points in its life cycle. Such therapies "reach above 90% success rates with minimal and tolerable side effects,” according to Tour n’ Cure. The treatments are approved and available in Egypt as part of the national campaign against hepatitis.

For international clients, Tour n’ Cure offers a one-week program. Patients first register on the Tour n’ Cure website, provide medical information, select dates and choose either capital Cairo or coastal resort Sharm El Sheikh for their treatment destination. Hepatologists respond offering their recommendations for therapies and provide a price for the visit.

When the client arrives in Egypt, he or she meets with doctors, undergoes an examination, and begins drug treatment while spending free time sightseeing. “By this point, you should start to feel the medicine take effect,’’ the website says. Patients continue taking the drugs for three to six months after returning home. Blood tests track progress and confirm that the virus has been eradicated. The English-language Daily News of Egypt said in a March 1 story that treatment for foreigners costs $5,900 including accommodation and airfare.

Documentary film maker Tim Coleman, in a testimonial on the Tour n’ Cure’s site, said he’d been waiting for help treating his hepatitis C from the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Without getting treatment through his government coverage, a six-month regimen would have cost him 120,000 British pounds (almost $150,000), Coleman said. By chance, he saw an ad for Tour n’ Cure on an Air Egypt flight. He says the organization quoted him a price of 1,200 pounds but eventually gave him the care for free. "Finally, this absolute nightmare is over,’’ Coleman said on the website.

For Tour n’ Cure pitchman Messi, his new role off the soccer field promoting affordable hepatitis treatment in Egypt is just getting started.

Related Coverage:

DAAs Still Out of Reach for Poor Nations?

New Hepatitis C Panviral Not Better Than Earlier Drugs?

How to Keep Hepatitis Patients Coming for Treatment