Although medication for Hepatitis is accessible, many people say the cost of treatment for this viral infection is prohibitive.
These concerns were raised during events to mark the World Hepatitis Day last week in Kigali, organised under the global theme ‘Elimination.’
The current cost for screening the disease ranges from Rwf20,000 while treatment could be as high as Rwf900,000.
Speaking to The New Times, Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the head of HIV, STI and other blood borne diseases at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said much as there are vaccines for Hepatitis B, treating viral Hepatitis C could require individuals to dig deep into their pockets.
“In the country, vaccines for hepatitis B can be obtained, and fortunately, all children under 15 years have already received this treatment. On the other hand, Hepatitis C has no vaccine but can be managed with drugs that are costly. In developed countries like the US, the cost of treatment is around Rwf60 million per person,” he said.
He, however, urged the public to seek early screening for the disease instead of relying on unfound claims that Hepatitis is uncontrollable.
“This programme is three years old and activities include screening but when you look at the figures, there is still a challenge of people who don’t know where to seek treatment for Hepatitis from. Others think all types of Hepatitis are incurable. It is those mindsets that need to change,” he added.
Dr Jeanine Condo, the director general of Rwanda Biomedical Centre emphasised that Hepatitis treatment services could be accessed from all referral hospitals.
“District hospitals in Rwanda provide Hepatitis screening services. Such services, he said, can be accessed at University Teaching Hospital in Kigali and Butare, Rwanda Military Hospital in Kanombe and King Faisal hospital,” said Condo.
In Rwanda, out of every 100 people, three have Hepatitis B, while Hepatitis C occurrence falls in a similar range. At the national level, Hepatitis prevalence stands at 4 per cent, according to the Rwanda Biomedical Centre.
Jean Bosco Rutikanga, the president of Rwanda Organisation for Fighting against Hepatitis, reiterated the importance of early screening, and advising those already found positive to adhere to medical treatment.
“Many people still have fear about the disease, but those who have such diseases should only seek treatment as soon as possible. Once you find out your status, it helps you to live longer,” he said.
Last week, about 2000 people received Hepatitis B vaccination free of charge as part of a two-day campaign which ended on Thursday.
Follow-up second and third doses will be provided in selected public hospitals in Kigali.
Burden of treating viral Hepatitis
During the past week, individuals were provided screening at Rwf12, 500 from health centres, which is 50 per cent lower than the usual price while the vaccine goes for Rwf10,000.
However, screening in private clinics goes for Rwf 90,000 for those without insurance while for those with insurance pay Rwf20,000. Hepatitis treatment is not included under Mutuelle de Sante packages.
Majority of patients who attended the free screening event at the Kigali Car Free Zone expressed worry over the treatment costs.
Oswaldo Nyarwaya, from Batsinda in Gasabo District said that after being tested for Hepatitis, he initially failed to get treatment because of limited funds.
“The first time I tested positive for Hepatitis B they asked me for over Rwf300,000 for treatment. Fortunately, the second time I tested, I was found negative,” said Nyarwaya.
Hacila Mukamusoni, a resident of Bugesera who tested positive for viral Hepatitis, expressed concern that the sum charged couldn’t encourage regular visits to hospitals.
“I was initially screened near my home in Bugesera but they told me treatment could even exceed Rwf800,000. It is the same reason I travelled all the way here [Kigali],” she said.