Tuesday,25 April, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Tuesday,25 April, 2017
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Taking down Hepatitis C?

Egypt’s military institution announces it has invented new devices to detect and treat HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. Mohamed Abdel-Baky looks into the claim that has raised the eyebrows of some

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Al-Ahram Weekly

During a press conference held Sunday noon at the Defence Ministry’s engineering department, Egypt’s Armed Forces revealed details of its recently developed device that its inventors say can diagnose both the HIV and Hepatitis C viruses and provide a cure for them within 20 hours.

The detection can be done with 100 per cent accuracy in the case of HIV, and 98 per cent accuracy in the case of Hepatitis C. The device has no electronics. It is powered by the body’s static electricity. The device is non-invasion, requiring no blood sample be taken.

The engineering department received an official grant for its achievement, noting that a similarly successful device was developed to detect the H1N1 (swine flu) virus and was tested in army hospitals.

In a statement on Facebook, armed forces spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Ali, said interim President Adli Mansour and Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had been shown the device, which as he said can “eliminate C virus with a cost tens of times less than that its foreign likes, and it is successful 98 per cent.”

Following the announcement, Egypt’s ministries of health and defence formed a joint research team to prepare for the use of the new device, which will be available at military hospitals starting 30 June. During the Sunday press conference, head of the military engineering department, Major General Taher Abdallah, said the new device was invented by Major General Dr Ibrahim Abdel-Atti and based on 22 years of research.

The treatment has no side effects, Abdallah said, adding that the military would not export the treatment outside Egypt, but would seek international approval for it.

The detection device is called “C-Fast” and was developed from bomb detection equipment, refined to detect an electromagnetic pulse that the Hepatitis C and HIV viruses give off in the body.

Representative of the Health Ministry Nadia Ragab said the ministry tested and approved the treatment, and that its development shows that Egypt has scientists operating on the highest international level.

Sally Emara, supervisor of the research, said the results of the treatment are “outstanding” in tests.

“Devices such as these could save lives in areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where access to labs for drawing blood samples is limited,” she said.

Similar devices have been invented by bioengineers at Harvard as well as at the University of Illinois. The first requires a small saliva sample and scans for the genetic code of HIV. The latter requires a small prick of blood to read a sample and search for the virus.

Egypt has among the highest prevalence of Hepatitis C worldwide, estimated at 14.7 per cent of the population.

The military’s latest invention is based on programming the device to identify the DNA structures of the respective viruses. As soon as an afflicted patient gets close to the device, a sensor drives an indicator stating whether the virus is present.

Tests on the device have been conducted in Egypt since June 2011, in army hospitals, blood banks, other military facilities, and hospitals under the Health Ministry.

More than 1,000 patients have been accurately diagnosed, the device approved by the Ministry of Health after testing in Ain Shams University Hospital, Cairo University Hospital and the National Liver Institute with a success ratio of 94 per cent.

Other tests have been conducted on an international level, with Japan, India and Pakistan participating in trials starting 24 January 2005 until 5 February 2011.

More than 300 patients were tested with a success ratio of 100 per cent in diagnosing the presence of the Hepatitis C virus and a control ratio of 97 per cent in cases where there was no virus present.

Test results have been showcased at a number of scientific conferences, among them the Liver Disease Studies Conference in Japan in 2010, attended by doctors and researchers from 60 countries, along with other conferences in Thailand and Berlin in 2011.

The same theory that is used in the device to detect Hepatitis C has been applied to produce another device to detect the HIV virus. The approval of Scientific Research Ethics Committee and a license for use from the Health Ministry were issued to conduct clinical tests. A device to detect the H1N1 virus is in process.

Yet despite this positive lead-up to Sunday’s announcement, many Egyptians and some foreign press reacted with incredulity. Some focused on the lack of technical information given to support the claim that a device has been developed that “cures” these viruses once successfully detected. Others dismissed the claim out of hand.

The inventor and team researchers have given few details, claiming that the new devices need to be protected from powerful interests in the international pharmaceutical business that act like a “mafia” and would be threatened by the emergence of an inexpensive “cure” to these diseases.

Social networks were abuzz with jokes and laments, with a number believing that the bold claim will ultimately be proven baseless. Some appeared alarmed that the Armed Forces, seen as the main source of authority in the country ahead presidential and parliamentary elections this year, would stake its credibility on a claim to have cured diseases that have stumped medical researchers worldwide for decades.

Many jokes revolved around the words of inventor Abdel-Atti, who stated at the press conference Sunday: “I take the AIDS from the patient, and I feed it to the patient. I give it to him as a finger of kofta, and he feeds on it. I take the disease and give it to him as food, and this is the height of achievement.”

Others are hopeful, waiting for 30 June and ignoring naysayers.

What is certain is if indeed Egyptian scientists have found a way, unconventional or otherwise, to cure two of the most devastating viruses known, it would represent a giant step forward for sufferers of these viruses in Egypt and worldwide.

 

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