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Local Organization Starts Psoriasis Awareness Campaign

by Daniel Sabiiti
4:05 pm

Left and Right: Pierre Célestin Habiyaremye and Gerard Rugambwa, president and vice president of the organisation and Dr. Amani Uwajeni(Middle)

The Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis association of Rwanda (RPAO) has started raising public awareness about the chronic disease which many Rwandans could be living with but in isolation due to its health and social effects on patients.

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin and nail disease. It causes red, scaly rashes and thick, pitted fingernails while psoriatic arthritis causes inflamed, swollen, and painful joints. It happens most often in the fingers and toes.

RPAO president and legal representative, Pierre Célestin Habiyaremye, said that after the organization acquiring a legal status in April 2024, they will focus on three aspects- awareness, knowledge and advocacy about the disease which has a 2% prevalence in Rwanda.

During a press briefing on June 2, 2024, Habiyaremye stressed that Rwandans must first know that Psoriasis is a disease that exists in Rwanda, it is a chronic and non-communicable disease like so many others.

“Some Rwandans are who suffer from psoriasis without knowing it are being “robbed” of money by unqualified doctors and witchdoctors, who promise them a cure yet there is no cure for the disease,” Habiyaremye said.

Habiyaremye asked Rwandans who have psoriasis to join the association so as to collectively advocate for social inclusion, fight stigma associated with the disease, access to medication and treatment from the right health professionals instead of believing in witchcraft- which adds more damage than solutions.

RPAO says it will place particular emphasis on the need to fight against the discrimination to which people suffering from psoriasis are sometimes victims in the social and professional environment.

Though not infectious, as a skin disorder disease, psoriasis patients are often stigmatized and excluded from normal social gathering and activities such as swimming, sports which require someone to expose parts of their body.

Gerard Rugambwa, a psoriasis patient and vice chairman of RPAO said that getting the right professional (specialist) treatment, affordability and access to medication are the biggest challenge for a patient in Rwanda.

“This is a gruesome and tiring disease. I got diagnosed by a medic who is not qualified, also tried herbalists and when I encountered the right specialist, I spent three months without getting the prescribed medication,” Rugambwa said.

Some of the medication used by psoriasis patients include tubes for smearing on their skins, and some of them cost from $80-$120 per tube that can last a month.

Dr. Amani Alice Uwajeni, the president of the Rwanda Dermatologists and Venereology Society (RDS) said that they are committed to advocating in favor of people affected by this chronic skin disease but also show that it is not an infectious and with the right treatment the disease can be managed even when not curable.

Though medication is expensive, Uwajeni stated that like any other chronic diseases, there has been progress made in making psoriasis treatment accessible in major hospitals in Kigali (CHUK, Military hospital, and King Faisal) but there is a challenge of numbers of dermatologists in the country.

In addition to the scarcity of medication and high price of medicines, the number of dermatologists is lacking and there is no epidemiological data on the disease in Rwanda.

There are only 13 dermatologists in Rwanda, however Uwajeni said that with the current training program at the University of Rwanda, the country will have at least 30 specialists in the next 10 years, which will allow more access to treatment and data collection.

Each year, the global community unites to raise awareness and call for action in support of people living with psoriatic disease.

World Psoriasis Day has been celebrated on October 29th for more than a decade and the day is observed in over 70 countries. Rwanda will be one of the new countries to join the call to action under the World Psoriasis Day 2024 theme,  ‘Family”.

Ravi Ruparel, a London-born entrepreneur, economist and psoriasis patient said that he will support Rwandan Psoriasis community in highlighting the disease as part of commitment to raising awareness and understanding, as well as resources detailing the effects of psoriatic disease on the family economy, work life, social life, relationships.

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