Rwanda to eliminate viral Hepatitis C by 2024

In December 2018, Rwanda announced the country’s firm decision to eliminate viral Hepatitis C (HCV) by 2024.By doing so, Rwanda will become the first country in the Sub Saharan region to eliminate Hepatitis C, way ahead of WHO’s recommendation to eliminate Hepatitis C worldwide by 2030.

Globally, 71 million people are infected by Hepatitis C. In Rwanda, a total of 4% of the population is estimated to be infected

Unlike Hepatitis B which only has a vaccine but no effective cure. Hepatitis C can be treated and cured only in three months. However, delayed diagnosis and treatment lead to more complicated cases including liver cancer and death.

Rwanda has taken the biggest stride and decided not only to treat people who are infected but also to eliminate Hepatitis C in Rwanda by 2024.

A national campaign named ‘’Rwanda Cares” aiming at Hepatitis C Elimination in Rwanda was launched in December 2018.

Under this campaign, at least 4 million Rwandans will be screened for the deadly disease and a total of 110,000 of them who are suspected to be infected will receive treatment which will reduce the current prevalence of Hepatitis C from  the current 4% to a mere 1%.

The First Lady, Jeannette Kagame joins officials at the campaign to eliminate Hepatitis C and increase local government ownership. 

After the Launch of Hepatitis C Elimination, a lot has been accomplished. Efforts led by the President of the Republic to ensure every Rwandan has access to quality drugs have resulted in a price record for quality hepatitis drugs for Rwanda . The drug price was reduced from $1000 to $60. In the framework of securing necessary funds towards this noble cause, the First lady of Rwanda during an event gathering different players including the Private Sector Federation, Religious Representatives, and different NGOs operating in Rwanda reminded the audience that everyone’s contribution is needed for Rwanda to achieve this important goal.

At the Ministry of Health’s level, infrastructures have been put in place; more than 350 health care providers have been trained to manage hepatitis across the country, and case finding efforts have been strengthened. Presently, case finding efforts have been mainly conducted through mass campaigns and they focused initially on high risk groups including people leaving with HIV, prisoners, and all Rwandans with 45 years and above. These efforts resulted in 1,000,000 Rwandans that have been screened and 15000 have been treated.

However, there is a need to increase access to hepatitis services and ownership from the community. It is in this regard that the Ministry of Health together with its implementing arm Rwanda Biomedical Center decided to decentralize the elimination of Hepatitis C and increase local government ownership. This was launched during an event held in Gatsibo, last Wednesday 11, 2019, where the Minister of Health accompanied by different stakeholders emphasized that both the community and local leaders role are instrumental to the success of this campaign and they were all called to support the government in raising awareness about the disease and embracing planned activities towards Hepatitis C elimination in Rwanda.

However, the President intervened and made advocacy from the manufacturer of the drugs and he was successful. It is because of that that the current prices for one to get medication for Hepatitis C is only $90 which is approximately Rwf 81,000

Various measures have been taken to see that people found to be having Hepatitis C receive treatment even if they really can’t afford the medical bills. Some of these have been financial donations from different institutions such as the Catholic Church, Bank of Kigali, Rwanda Revenue Authority, the Private Sector Foundation as well as the Civil Society.

Campaigns to screen people for the disease have started and the first one was held where residents of Gatsibo District in the Eastern province of the country were tested in order to help curb the deadly disease.

Among made significant achievements towards elimination of Hepatitis C Rwanda have been able to train 324 health professionals and doctors on treatment of hepatitis C and have been conducting outreach campaigns to increase awareness prevention, diagnosis and early treatment of the disease.

The Ministry of health through Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) has also provided Hepatitis C screening to more than 1,000,000 people with more attention on the needy and older people and, among those tested, more than 15,000 have been treated and have successfully cured.

In an interview with The New Times has interviewed Mukadereva Esther , a sixty five year old Mukadereva Esther who has recently suffered from Hepatitis C and benefited from the free treatment is one of the Rwandans that at one time was diagnosed with Hepatitis C but because of receiving early treatment, she was able to recover and is now healthy and happily living.