The ministry of Health has launched a national campaign against viral hepatitis.The launch took place on Thursday in Kigali on the occasion of the World Hepatitis Day that falls on July 27, annually.
The new drive focuses on increasing awareness, access to hepatitis related services, reduction of drug prices, increasing health insurance coverage, among others.
Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Division Manager of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), said the new campaign will seek to establish a strong surveillance system for better planning regarding the disease, training more specialists, and putting in place more facilities that are able to test, treat and prevent viral hepatitis.
Among other things, he said, RBC will continue to push for insurance coverage for hepatitis treatment and reduction of prices for hepatitis vaccination and treatment.
Nsanzimana said though negotiations between MoH and drug manufacturers saw HBV treatment reduced from Rwf6 million to Rwf960,000, adding however that the price remains prohibitive for many.
He said they are working to see that no one will be left out on treatment.
“We are working on this aspect so that those who are poor do not miss out. For example, on Wednesday we had five patients who received donations to be freely treated,” he said, adding that viral hepatitis related services will be taken beyond referral and provincial hospitals to district hospitals and health centres.
According to RBC, last year 850 people were initiated on HBV medication and 120 out of these successfully completed their treatment. He said as many as 2500 people received free hepatitis B vaccination at Kigali’s Car Free Zone on Wednesday, adding that free vaccination efforts were continuing.
He said that the national programme will put more emphasis on training of more health personnel.
The ministry has so far trained 14 high level hepatitis specialists, 450 nurses and 24 lab technicians.
Speaking at the launch, Dr Jean-Pierre Nyamanzi, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, described the programme as “a game changer” in the fight against the deadly liver disease.
“World Hepatitis Day 2016 signals the start of something very important where Rwanda is officially launching A national viral hepatitis programme. Though the prevalence and mortality rate of hepatitis B and C are not well documented, we all know that many people are suffering from these diseases. Some don’t know their status, others know but they cannot easily access the drugs, especially for Hepatitis C. We think that the programme we are launching is going to be a game changer in the fight against Hepatitis viruses,” he said.
He added the ministry will mobilise more support for the national viral hepatitis programme, noting that there are several challenges, especially as far as financing is concerned.
Dr Frank Lule, a medical officer at the World Health Organisation, said there is need for hepatitis to be given necessary attention as it is 7th leading cause of death globally.
He lauded Rwanda’s efforts in fighting the disease referring to the national effort as “a ground breaking phase” that puts Rwanda in a good position to achieve the global goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030.