The New Times (Kigali)

1 March 2012

Rwanda: Do We Really Value What We Have?

Photo: Gwen Dubourthoumieu/IRIN
A health worker in the eastern DRC city of Kisangani, where a cholera outbreak has killed more than 50 people, explains the importance of good hygiene.

opinion

There's an on-going outbreak of Cholera in the region, specifically in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where over 1200 cases have been recorded with a few deaths.

In Rwanda, imported cases of this deadly disease numbered 13 cases but the good news is that the victims have all been treated and discharged. No deaths have been recorded and no new cases have emerged since February 22.

To control such an epidemic looming across our borderlines does not come as an easy feat or a miracle. It certainly takes more than surveillance and preparedness. It simply rotates around one thing; the kind of value a government attaches to human life and how far it is willing to stretch to protect its people.

As soon as Cholera was declared an epidemic in DR Congo, the top leadership of this country swung into action with no time to waste. A team of Ministers, Governors, Mayors, Doctors, Nurses, as well as Military and Police Commanders was dispatched to the border town of Rubavu to draw concrete measures of protecting Rwandans from the scourge. Of course many will argue that the primary role of any government is to protect its citizens. To Rwandans, the story might even sound stale since we have become accustomed to such measures. But the picture across Africa is of a handful countries where similar rapid response measures are even thought of. Usually the alarm will set off after a 'few'100 deaths or after humanitarian NGOs find the ears of international media.

For Rwanda, the story of this value to human life stretches to incidents where Rwandans involved in road accidents in neighboring countries are rescued by Rwandan choppers and ambulances, often alongside nationals of those very countries.

These might sound ordinary stories but millions across our continent simply view such levels of responsibility as next to impossible. Yet, there are even greater groundbreaking initiatives happening in the corridors of power that we might not learn of but are certainly in the interest of taking this nation to the next phase of our development agenda.

Within the Health sector, a landmark achievement was reached this week nearly after a year of negotiations with US Government on how Rwanda can best benefit from the support we receive from this partner.

The year-long negotiations rotated around the need to build a strong human resource base for the sector, one where Rwandan health professionals are trained to provide services themselves, keeping quantity and quality of what we offer but, again, transforming the highly paid technical assistance in formal education.

It hasn't been easy. But at the end of it all, the results are worth the sweat. Rwanda now has some $33.5 million to fund this ambitious programme and the amount is for one year alone

With these funds, Rwanda will bring in 100 professors with different specialties from 17 top US Universities to train our Doctors, Nurses, students and Medical School Lecturers on different areas of specialization. With this money, we will be able to send a significant number of our Doctors for specialized courses in areas where we have gaps.

And yet as we pride in these achievements and as Government struggles to meet its part of the bargain, sometimes, we often fall short of making our own individual contribution. Some among us continue to see no value in building sustainable systems that will guarantee a good future for generations to come. Imagine a situation where a patient, after receiving all medical treatment in one of our hospitals, simply vanishes without paying a penny. Yes it happens - even in situations where one is required to pay just 10 percent.

In CHUK, almost Rwf20 million is lost every year to patients with Mutuelle de santé who escape from hospital without paying their 10 percent bill. The same hospital loses to Rwf70 million from patients, with no insurance scheme but who are attended to and simply disappear after gaining energy. By the way, it's not a question of being poor - it's a question of attaching value to this kind of service. CHUK has an option of engaging one on a long-term payment if there are issues of capacity. Therefore, when CHUK introduces a pre-paid mechanism, the next thing you hear on FM stations is castigating the institution with all sorts of wide allegations.

The word 'Agaciro' is a household brand now but we can't build this Agaciro if we are selfish when it comes to fulfilling our own side of the bargain. If, in five years, Mutuelle de Santé has reduced the amount of out-of-pocket expenditure on health care by more than 88 percent, from $34 annually to $4 dollars today, why shouldn't we all feel proud in strengthening this system? Moral of the story - Government is doing its part; the little expected from us should never be compromised.

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InFocus

Cholera Outbreak Worsens in DRC

A health worker in the eastern DRC city of Kisangani, where a cholera outbreak has killed more than 50 people, explains the importance of good hygiene.

The cholera outbreak that began in the DRC in January continues to worsen with more deaths and diagnoses. Read more »