To raise awareness of the danger of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), and the symptoms and precautions people should follow to protect themselves, a number of AUC graduate students who are studying under the Nadhmi Auchi fellowship have launched an awareness campaign under the slogan "Be active. Get tested. Stop the spread." The inaugural ceremony of the campaign was attended by AUC President David Arnold; Nadhmi Auchi, founder of the Nadhmi Auchi Young Arab Leaders Fellowship Program Professor Abdel-Rahman Al-Zayadi of Ain Shams University and director of the Cairo Liver Center; and Professor Hassan Azzazy, head of the chemistry department at AUC and the supervisor of the campaign. Because Egypt has the highest rates of HCV infection, approximately 10 million people are effected, the students decided to take action and organize the campaign. "If people understand that it is a serious problem and know the high numbers of people with HCV, people will take positive steps to protect themselves," stressed Reem Al-Olaby one of the Auchi fellows who is studying biotechnology and working on a thesis on HCV.
In his lecture at the inaugural ceremony, El-Zayadi warned that approximately 70 to 80 percent of HCV patients in Egypt are likely to develop chronic infection, which could eventually develop into other diseases, including liver cancer. "Egypt is one of the areas with a high prevalence. The rates in north Egypt (the Delta) are higher than the rates in south Egypt, 10 percent and seven percent respectively," he said.
The campaign, which started on October 11 and will run until October 20, includes lectures on HCV by specialists like Professor Al-Zayadi and Professor Manal El-Sayed, who is also a member of the Egyptian National Committee for Control of Viral Hepatitis. Some sessions are being provided in Arabic to benefit AUC workers who do not speak English. "We have prepared brochures and flyers in English and Arabic to explain facts about the infection, methods of transmission, current tests and treatment options," Azzazy said, adding that the campaign also includes a free test for HCV for individuals interested in knowing their HCV status.
According to Al-Olaby, one of the main activities of the campaign is the "rotating awareness" for AUC community. "We talk to students, faculty, staff and workers face to face, dividing ourselves between the schools, departments and places like the food court and the sports facility. I believe that all the people on campus have the right to get the information," she said. "Moreover," she added, "the campaign includes a fun part like a Parkour Show and a football match where the whole community is invited."
Other activities include a contest for the best documentary on HCV as well as the best children booklet related to the virus. "We can eventually use this material with the outside community. Our future plan is to extend this awareness campaign to other universities, schools and sporting clubs," Al-Olaby said. Azzazy also has several plans to take this campaign to the national level in collaboration with the National Viral Hepatitis Committee and other agencies.
Azzazy believes that students are the key component of this campaign. "One of the important targets of this campaign is to achieve an HCV-free generation. If we want to achieve this goal, our primary target would be the students. We need to educate students about this disease and most importantly what they should do to avoid infection. Each informed student would educate each member of his immediate and extended family as well as other friends."
As a quality control tool to assess the effectiveness of the campaign, the organizers surveyed 800 members of AUC community last May, and will survey a similar number after the campaign to monitor the effectiveness of this activity. "Surveys provide us with additional valuable information such as knowing the most effective method to raise awareness about HCV, including TV or newspaper advertisements, flyers or brochures, and also determining the best method to encourage people to get tested," Azzazy stated.
The American University in Cairo (AUC) was founded 90 years ago and is major contributor to the social, political and cultural life of the Arab Region. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions, and study abroad programs. An independent, nonprofit, apolitical, non-sectarian and equal opportunity institution, AUC is fully accredited in Egypt and the United States.