Rwanda has launched a $ 113 million national campaign to uproot the deadly Hepatitis C – a silent killer claiming millions around the world.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus now at 5% in Rwanda can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.
It mostly attacks people aged 50 years old and beyond and treatment per patient may cost up to Rwf 1 million against the targeted Rwf 80,000 in this five year long campaign.
World Health Organisation figures indicate that approximately 399, 000 people die each year from hepatitis C, mostly from cirrhosis and hepato-cellular carcinoma.
Globally, WHO says that an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection, while antiviral medicines can cure more than 95% of persons with hepatitis C infection, thereby reducing the risk of death from liver cancer and cirrhosis, but access to diagnosis and treatment is low.
In Rwanda, health experts warned low turn up for vaccination against the silent disease, which they say can last for between 20 to 30 years in a human body undetected.
In an interview with KT Press last year, Dr. Jean Damascene Makuza, director of Viral Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) unit at RBC said that hepatitis B and C can last over 20-30 years in someone’s body without being detected, but “the level where a patient starts showing signs is when the disease can hardly be treated.”
“Most people have suffered and died of the diseases because of not seeking early tests,” Dr. Makuza told KT Press.
On Tuesday, December 11, 2018, Rwanda kicked off a national plan to eliminate Hepatitis C during an international symposium taking place at Radisson Blue and Convention Centre in the capital Kigali.
There are different types of hepatitis viruses Rwandans have suffered for so many years. However, apart from the deadly hepatitis B and C, others are easily treated, health experts say.
According to World Health, Hepatitis C is found worldwide. The Health Organisation however says that the most affected regions are Eastern Mediterranean and European Regions, with the prevalence of 2.3% and 1.5% respectively.
Depending on the country, hepatitis C virus infection can be concentrated in certain populations (for example, among people who inject drugs) and/or in general populations.
There are multiple strains (or genotypes) of the virus and their distribution varies by region, WHO says.
In 2011, Rwanda established its hepatitis control unit under the Division of HIV/AIDS and other Blood Borne Infections at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, with an objective to develop a specific programme for the prevention, care and treatment of hepatitis B and C.
The annual cost of a comprehensive national viral hepatitis programme is estimated at $ 168.6 million.