About 2544 people in Gatsibo district Eastern Province have been initiated on free Hepatitis C treatment as the country seeks to reduce the period for achieving its Hepatitis C elimination plan. Those who will receive the free drugs tested positive for Hepatitis C during a screening campaign in which the government alongside other partners screened up to 90806 in the district. According to the Ministry of Health (MoH), such campaigns will be extended to other parts of the country. The Ministry has an ambitious plan of reducing the Hepatitis C prevalence from the current 4 per cent to close to 1.2 percent and achieving 90 percent treatment coverage for people aged 15 years old by 2021. The hepatitis C virus is a blood-borne virus: the most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood. This may happen through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, and unsafe healthcare, transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products, and sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood. Rwanda is said to be the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to propose an elimination plan of this size. Speaking at the launch of the treatment drive, Dr Tharcisse Mpunga, the Minister of State in Charge of Primary Healthcare said that the country has a target of testing up to 4 million Rwandans for hepatitis C, and put the positive ones on medication. Dr. Tharcisse Mpunga, the Minister of State in charge of primary health care urged Gatsibo residents test for Hepatitis C and get medication if they are positive. / Courtesy Warning citizens of the dangers of Hepatitis C, he advised them to go for testing and thereafter take the necessary measures, “Hepatitis C poses serious threat to life, among which is that it can lead to liver cancer. But people tend not to pay attention to it because it takes a long time to show symptoms – it can even take 15 or 20 years before symptoms can show,” he said. To date, according to Dr. Mpunga, up to 2 million Rwandans have been tested of Hepatitis C. The prevalence of the disease is estimated at 4 percent in the country. Hepatitis C is believed to be the second largest contributor of cancers in the country. The government’s Hepatitis C elimination plan includes investing in new technologies to enable more effective and affordable care, and innovative models of service delivery to reach affected populations. Throughout the years, Rwanda has made important developments in HCV control; these include screening of blood products, training and enforcement of safe injection practices, and the publication of Viral Hepatitis Policy and Guidelines in 2013. Minister for local government Anastase Shyaka hands over some of the drugs to district officials for use in treating Hepatitis C. / Courtesy The Government also conducted major price negotiations resulting in cutting treatment cost per person from $86,000 to $350, making the treatment nationwide more accessible for chronic HCV patients. According to the World Health Organisation, globally an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection. W.H.O says that a significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer. Gatsibo district was proposed to host the launch event as it initially had the highest prevalence of Hepatitis C of about 6%. According to the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, currently, the Eastern Province has screened more than 500,000 people aged 15 years old and above.