Cairo: Egyptian authorities started on Monday what they termed as the world’s largest medical survey for early detection of hepatitis C virus (HCV), a major health problem in the country,

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country of around 100 people, ranks high in hepatitis infection.

The first of the three-stage campaign got off the ground Monday in nine of Egypt’s 27 governorates running until the end of November.

The second will start in December covering 11 governorates and the third in February in the remaining seven governorates.

The drive, supported by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank, targets up to 52 million Egyptians.

It will cover people aged above 18 and is scheduled to be completed by next April, according to health officials.

“The state authorities will examine people in seven months. In one year or 16 months, we will have completed all those found infected with Hepatitis C,” Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed said at a press conference.

She explained that the examination would be conducted at state hospitals, medical centres, mobile clinics and youth centres via identity cards.

Those testing positive with HCV will be treated for free, the minister said.

“The state, the government and civil society organisation give great importance to this historic initiative that will be a turning point in the whole region and a model for the world,” she added.

Several state institutions, including the army as well as ministries of the interior, local development and the youth, are participating in the campaign, which is part of a package of health insurance services launched by President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi.

State and private television stations are running advertisements, urging people to respond to the campaign that also features check-ups for diabetes and high blood pressure.

Egypt is believed to have the world’s highest HCV prevalence rate, with more than 14 per cent of the population infected, according to a 2008 national demographic health survey. HCV infection occurs through blood contact.

Authorities plan to declare Egypt free of HCV by the end of 2020.