First Lady Jeannette Kagame on Saturday will officiate at the launch of a treatment drive for about 2000 people living with Hepatitis C as Rwanda looks to reduce the duration of its Hepatitis C elimination plan from 5 to 2 years.
The drive is part of the measures for the country to achieve its Hepatitis C elimination plan in 2021 instead of 2024 as earlier planned.
In august last year, the government launched a plan aimed at critically reducing the HCV prevalence from the current 4 per cent to close to 1.2 per cent and achieving 90 per cent treatment coverage for people aged 15 years old by 2024 – now aiming to achieve it by 2021.
The plan also looks to screen about 4 million people aged 15 years and above, carry out viral load tests for about 230,000 people, and treat 112,000 chronically affected patients.
As part of the implementation of the plan, the first lady together with other partners will launch the treatment drive in Gatsibo and it is aimed at offering treatment to over 2000 patients recently diagnosed with HCV.
The drive is also aimed at reiterating national commitment to improve the health of Rwandans up to the community level.
In Rwanda, the estimated number of people infected with Hepatitis C is 4 per cent and the most affected population are adults above 50 years.
Hep C is also believed to be the second largest contributor of cancers in the country.
The Hep C elimination plan was earlier estimated to cost $44 million (approximately Rwf40 billion), mainly focusing on investing in new technologies to enable more effective and affordable care, and innovative models of service delivery to reach affected populations.
Rwanda is said to be the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to propose an elimination plan of this size.
Initially, it was planned that 80 per cent of the $44 million will be allocated for lab tests and treatments, while 20 per cent will be for community mobilisation, monitoring and evaluation, personnel and programme coordination.
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.
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.
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.
Antiviral medicines can cure more than 95 per cent of persons with hepatitis C infection, thereby reducing the risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer, but access to diagnosis and treatment is low.
There is currently no effective vaccine against hepatitis C, however, research in this area is ongoing.
Hepatitis C virus causes both acute and chronic infection. New HCV infections are usually asymptomatic. Some persons get acute hepatitis which does not lead to a life-threatening disease.
Around 30 per cent (15–45 per cent) of infected persons spontaneously clear the virus within six months of infection without any treatment.
The remaining 70 per cent (55–85 per cent) of persons will develop chronic HCV infection. Of those with chronic HCV infection, the risk of cirrhosis ranges between 15 per cent and 30 per cent within 20 years.