5 July 2012

Rwanda: A Healthy People As a Means of Sustaining Economic Development


For the last 18 years, Rwanda's economic recovery has been a subject of interest and a source of inspiration for many nations. The achievements are largely a result of a combination of factors including the continued growth of productive sectors of the economy working in tandem with other sectors to propel this country towards its vision of becoming a middle income nation by 2020.

The health sector, in particular, has not been left behind. Yet one would wonder how health contributes to economic development of a nation. Definitely, this is a question that any citizen would wish to pose to any expert deemed to be qualified in this domain. In my view, I think health equates to wealth.

Being healthy means having a complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing including the absence of illness.

It is one of the goals most valued by human beings. It is, therefore, unquestionable that avoiding or alleviating illness and developing and maintaining our physical and mental abilities are something that an individual should consider essential as part of human welfare.

Good health, therefore, plays a substantial role in economic growth through labour productivity and reducing economic burden due to illness.

Good health as a step towards economic empowerment goes beyond the individual status and considers health as a public good and access to healthcare as a human right.

Rendering a nation healthy takes into consideration values that benefit the community as a whole beyond any purchase price paid. This means that government has the sole responsibility of rendering a nation healthy and the Government of Rwanda has understood very well its responsibilities.

For the sector to rebuild from scratch and get to a level admired worldwide is an interesting fact to ponder about.

Rwanda's health sector is performing beyond its expectations with results showing high adherence levels to community health insurance , increased life expectancy, reduction of infant and child mortality, reduction of maternal mortality, reduction of malaria prevalence, increased access to HIV care and treatment services, preparedness and response to epidemic prone diseases....to list a few.

The recently published 2010 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) proved beyond doubt that Rwanda is on the right track towards achieving the Health Millennium Development Goals but this has not prevented leadership from raising the bar to a much higher level with new targets being set.

This has been due to the fact that government has continuously developed policies and implemented strategies that address the actual needs considering social equity and encouraging social involvement where citizens have contributed to boost social capital to expand access to health and making the right investments for health returns and community volunteering.

Credit goes to the government that has prioritized quality health care for the entire population. Credit goes to the citizens who have owned and invested in healthcare. Credit goes to the health care providers that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to deliver quality services to ensure that our populations are free from illness.

And finally, credit goes to all bilateral and multilateral organisations and all partners, including civil society and the private sector, who have contributed directly or indirectly to serve the common good of improving health care, hence contributing to the development of our nation.

As we look back to appreciate the achievements made, we need not to relax and think that all is well. We, instead, should set new targets and think of new challenges that are a consequence of what we have achieved. Improving livelihoods is a major cause for diseases related to lifestyle and, therefore, adding up to the challenges.

In the health sector, we need to improve on service delivery to satisfy our population more. We need to continue using evidence based research for policy formulation. We need to promote sustainable innovations and to foster and promote greater awareness of shared interests.

In short, we need to learn from the past to shape our future - a future where wealth for our nation is founded on a healthy people.

We have leaped in the right direction, let's increase the pace!

Dr Thierry Nyatanyi is Head, Division of Other Epidemic Infectious Disease at RBC.

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