December 17th, 2012
In the first post in our series looking at hepatitis C around the world, we are on the northwest coast of the Persian Gulf. The Arabian state of Kuwait has been independent from Great Britain since 1961, has a population of 3.5 million, and, because of its oil fields, is most famous in recent history for being invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990.
Today, this small desert kingdom has a significant health problem with hepatitis C. Up to 5% of the population in Kuwait have been diagnosed with hep C. On World Hepatitis Day 2012, Kuwait’s Ministry of Health admitted to “the magnitude of the problem and its dimensions”, noting that hepatitis C can cause liver cancer and cirrhosis.
Dr Qais Al-Duwairi, Assistant Under-Secretary for Public Health, added that World Hepatitis Day was “an opportunity to shed light on the issue of hepatitis C and burdens resulting from it on public health and development.”
Back in 2009, Kuwait became the first GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) country to join an international group in fighting hepatitis, adopting six out of 12 World Hepatitis Alliance recommendations. Dr Rashed Al Owaish, director of Public Health Department at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health, said “People are changing their perspectives on hepatitis C, they are starting to discuss it openly, which further verifies the importance of raising awareness of hepatitis C, in order to enable our public to protect themselves from this disease. Kuwait is at the forefront of this global campaign.”
The virus is often spread through the blood, so officials such as Mubarak Bashir, director of the Inspections and Municipality Services Follow Up Department, will often warn against the use of shaving tools tainted with blood, which may infect a healthy person with diseases like hepatitis C.
In Kuwait, the government is taking this particular cause of infection very seriously, as Mr Bashir’s unusual job title suggests. As reported in the Kuwait Times, officials have carried out raids on men and women’s salons and health clubs, resulting in 120 citations against the salons and workers who failed to obtain health certificates or were in possession of expired ones. At least 10 health clubs and salons were closed down in December 2011 for failing to comply with health laws.