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Pakistani Region Tackling Hepatitis C With Free Treatment

The free treatment will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
The free treatment will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
The government of Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province is offering free treatment for hepatitis C patients for families with lower incomes, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar told RFE/RL that the regional government allocated 500 million rupees ($5.8 million) for the anti-hepatitis C program in last year's budget.

But Iftikhar said only 200 million rupees was spent, primarily due to bureaucratic hurdles for users that have since been changed.

He added that the remaining balance from 2010 plus this year's budgeted funds will be used to pay for the free hepatitis C program this year.

"800 million rupees will be spent on hepatitis C patients during the current year, and the treatment will be on a first-come, first-served basis," he said.

The government used to provide free treatment to hepatitis C patients under its Benazir Income Support Program, but it was not as effective as it could have been because a largely illiterate population could not cope with the paperwork required to be treated.

Bu the government has since removed the long procedure of filling out forms in order to register for the free treatment.

Liaqat, a resident of the town of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, maintained that the cost of the treatment used to be so high that local people could not afford it.

"Thank God that we have no problem [with paying] now," he said. "One injection costs 13,000 rupees ($150), but we are getting it free of charge now."

Abdul Khalil, a senior doctor at the Lady Reading Hospital, the largest hospital in Peshawar, told Radio Mashaal that they are providing free treatment to all hepatitis C patients.

He said 960 hepatitis C patients were treated at the hospital last year and the clinic has enough medicine to treat 2,000 patients this year.

Hepatitis C is a major problem in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which has a population of some 21 million.