Last Friday, the Ministry of Health concluded a campaign on prevention, access to testing, treatment and care of Hepatitis that was conducted in line with World Hepatitis Day (WHD) celebration.
During the campaign, 250,000 people were expected to be screened for Hepatitis B and C while 400,000 (over 15 years old) would be freely vaccinated against Hepatitis B.
But this was far below the number of people in need.
People turned up in big numbers at sites where long queues all day during the drive.
When this reporter arrived at the parking lot of Amahoro stadium in Remera, Kigali, which was one of the sites, some people were grumbling after missing vaccination despite having arrived very early.
“I was among the first people to arrive only to find hundreds already lining up. I had no option but to wait,” said one of the people that had come for the free service.
The seemingly infuriated man explained that he patiently waited until 2pm when they told him the vaccination doses were over. Like him, many had missed the opportunity to get vaccinated because this was the last day of the exercise.
Dr Jean Damascene Makuza, the acting director of Viral Hepatitis and STI Unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said the exercise will be implemented in districts that weren’t reached.
“We plan to reach all districts but we have so far covered 12 districts. Due to the presidential campaigns, the exercise has been postponed and the remaining 18 districts will be attended to later,” he said.
Dr Makuza said, about 210,000 people have so far been vaccinated while about 100,000 have been screened countrywide.
About Hepatitis prevalence in Rwanda, Makuza said it’s difficult at the moment to determine whether the disease is on the rise or not.
“We will know that by next year when we have the basic data”.
However, he said, the prevalence among the people above 15 years is between 3 and 4 per cent for both Hepatitis B and C.
Hepatitis C is more predominant for people over 45 years of age (over 10 per cent).
Most vulnerable groups include medics, sex workers, and prisoners, among others.
Plans to reduce cost
During the last exercise, in Kigali alone, 80,000 were vaccinated against 40,000 that had earlier been planned.
Meanwhile, Dr Makuza said there are efforts to reduce the cost of HBV vaccination which is still expensive for many.
“During the campaign, we noticed that many people were willing to get tested and vaccinated as a result of increased sensitisation,” he said.
“We are going to have negotiations with our donors and partners to cut the price from Rwf 8, 700 to at least Rwf2,000 or Rwf3,000.
“Ministries, private insurance companies and other partners are coming together to see how we can help in make such services more affordable,” he said.
According to Global Hepatitis Report 2017, an estimated 325 million people are living with chronic hepatitis infections (HBV or HCV) worldwide.
Viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015, a number that is comparable to deaths caused by tuberculosis and higher than deaths caused by HIV.
A vaccine against hepatitis B has been available since 1982 but research is still ongoing to find vaccine for hepatitis C though it can be treated and cured.