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The government has announced it has made significant effort towards implementing the five-year plan to eliminate Hepatitis C Virus, which was endorsed in 2018.

Currently, officials from the Ministry of Health, Rwanda’s cure rate for the virus is at 90 per cent among recorded infections.

The officials say that the current progress shows that the national goal to eliminate Hepatitis C virus (HCV) by 2024 is possible, which fore-runs the World Health Organization (WHO) timeline of 2030.

This was revealed on Wednesday July 28 as the country joined the global community in marking World Hepatitis Day, which was celebrated under the theme ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait’ a call to action to eliminate the viral disease.

Hepatitis is a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver and it has different types; Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.

Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) says that the program of HCV elimination is at the ‘last mile’ of implementation.

“We have screened five million out of the targeted seven million people aged 15 years and above,” said Dr. Sabin Nsabimana, Director General, RBC during his address on the World Hepatitis Day.

Reduced HVC prevalence

Throughout the years, Rwanda has made significant progress in reducing the prevalence of Hepatitis C virus from 4 per cent to one per cent, currently infections range between one and two per cent.

According to RBC’s report, in the past two years, 50,000 people have been treated for HCV and cured.

Deon Gratias Nshimiyimana, resident in Niboye Sector, Kicukiro District said he tested positive for HVC in July 2020 and after six months of treatment got cured.

 “My doctor advised me to take my medicines with a complete healthy meal and to abstain from alcohol.”

“Hepatitis is curable and I would advise everyone to cross check their status in order to get early treatment,” he added.

Effectiveness of awareness campaigns

“The initial phase of the program which consisted of awareness campaigns was run effectively until we moved to decentralized health access,” said Dr. Janvier Serumondo, Director of Viral Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections, RBC.

Covid 19 has prompted different awareness approaches to be adopted.

“Due to Covid, we are no longer able to do mass awareness since large gatherings are prohibited,” said Dr. Leonidas Batamugira, director of Remera Health Centre.

“Nowadays, no one wakes up to go to the hospital solely for Hepatitis screening, however, we persuade those who come for medical consultations to also undergo hepatitis tests and those whose results are positive, they are given proper follow up,” he added.

Decentralized Health care access

Access to screening and treatment services has been shifted from four health facilities to all health centres across the country.

Over 1000 healthcare workers have been trained to support specialists and provide hepatitis services in different health centres.

Hepatitis vaccination

About 4,000,000 people have been tested for HBV and over 5,000 are on a lifelong HBV treatment while over 7,000,000 people including children and adults have been vaccinated for HBV.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) prevention is mainly done by vaccination offered to children as part of the pentavalent vaccination package from 2002.

This means that the generation aged 0-18 years is vaccinated and it confers protection for the lifetime.

“Since 2002, we have been immunizing young children to build a hepatitis-free generation,” said Serumondo.

HCV does not have a vaccine but once screened, six month long treatment proves to cure by 90 per cent.

Worldwide, hepatitis B and C are the most common which result in three million new infections per year and 1.1 million deaths, with a person dying every 30 seconds from a hepatitis related illness.

In Africa, chronic viral hepatitis affects over 70 million people and continues to take the lives of many, especially those who can’t afford to access quality health care, however, Hepatitis can be prevented, screened, treated, and eliminated.

Serumondo says the ‘last mile’ of the program includes the screening of the remaining numbers and treating confirmed cases, preparation for WHO HCV elimination validation, and strengthening preventive interventions for HBV and increasing efforts towards HBV elimination. - Alice Kagina, The New Times

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