Up to 2000 people are expected to receive free hepatitis C and B screening as well as free HBV (Hepatitis B virus) vaccination which started yesterday on the occassion of the World Hepatitis Day.
The day is marked annually on July 27, and for Rwanda the activities were accorded two days until today as government puts emphasis on the viral hepatitis infections.
Vaccinations against Hepatitis B are being conducted at Kigali’s Car Free Zone, providing the first dose of HBV vaccine while the follow up doses (second and third) will be provided in selected public hospitals in Kigali (under regular vaccination services)– all free of charge.
According to Dr Jean Damascene Makuza, the acting director of sexually transmitted infections and viral hepatitis at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), besides the vaccination and screening activities, the campaign will include, among others, the launch of national Viral Hepatitis programme, and national viral hepatitis sensitisation campaign focussing on sending awareness messages through different media.
He said, the drive will help raise awareness about the liver diseases as well as give people an opportunity to access free related services which could otherwise be very expensive for them.
“The annual event provides an opportunity to raise public awareness on viral hepatitis. We want to screen people and vaccinate them for free because these services are usually expensive. For example, it would take Rwf15,000 for someone to have a complete vaccination dose for hepatitis B.”
He added that RBC has been negotiating with the manufacturers to reduce prices of hepatitis vaccine.
The launch of the national viral hepatitis programme today will include provision of updates on hepatitis B and C management as well as announcing the recent arrival of Direct Active Antivirals (DAA) drugs in the country and the initiation of the first patients on drugs for hepatitis C.
Initial screening of HBV was conducted by assessing the presence of the virus in the blood stream.
This indicates that the person has either acute or chronic Hepatitis B Virus infection and is infectious while a negative result shows the person is either susceptible or immune.
Makuza said all patients found Hepatitis B negative were referred for vaccination while all patients tested positive require follow up to determine chronicity and eligibility for treatment.
Meanwhile, many people also received HCV (hepatitis C virus) exposure tests via a serological assay for the HCV antibody (anti-HCV).
In Rwanda, viral hepatitis is considered a serious public health concern. However, the prevalence of Hepatitis B and C infections are not well known, while related mortality remains largely undocumented.
Figures from several studies show a Hepatitis B prevalence range between 1.9 per cent and 7 per cent, while Hepatitis C seropositivity varies between 0.8 per cent and 5.7 per cent.
The national guidelines for Hepatitis B and C viruses prevention and treatment were updated in June 2015 to include recommendations for treatment of Hepatitis C virus with Direct Active Antivirals and implementation of the Hepatitis B Virus birth dose vaccine.
Also a policy was devised to help address challenges related to the prevention and the control of hepatitis B and C.