It isa busy Friday morning and Dr Hasida Lai, a Chinese dentist and his Rwandan counterpart Dr Emmanuel Dusabe are surrounded by patients at Masaka regional referral hospital in Kicukiro district.
The two doctors communicate in English and Chinese languages, which eases communication with patients. Dr Dusabe, who learnt Chinese language while he was pursuing his master's degree in China, is the conduit of information between patients and Dr Lai, who does not speak Kinyarwanda.
Dr Lai has spent over a year in Masaka hospital that was constructed in 2011 through funding from the Chinese government. The hospital offers services ranging from maternity, internal medicine, pediatric, imaging, surgery, and tuberculosis treatment, to nutrition, anesthesia, HIV treatment, outpatient services, emergency, dentistry and mental health services.
It receives between 300 and 350 patients every day and serves some 380,000 people in Kicukiro District as well as others from Gasabo and Rwamagana districts.
As the Chinese President, Xi Jimping, visits Rwanda, the health sector is one of the areas under consideration for strengthening cooperation between the two countries. Masaka hospital is one of the results of the more than 47 years cooperation between the two countries.
"When I arrived in Rwanda last year, I had to familiarise with doctors in this hospital so that we be able to communicate with patients as most of them do not know Chinese language and English. We work with Rwandan colleagues, examiners and Chinese language interpreters so that the health services are easily delivered," he said.
Lai told The New Times that he has ample experience in Rwanda's health sector.
"Since I arrived in Rwanda, I have treated over one thousand patients," he said.
He explained that the cooperation between Rwanda and China should be continuous so as to ensure knowledge and skills transfer to Rwandan doctors.
Based on the high number of patients that visit the hospital every day, Lai says, there's need to bolster its capacity in terms of equipment and human resources.
"Under bilateral scholarship, Rwanda can send more doctors to China to improve their skills. We (can) learn from each other," he said.
Lai also specialises in prosthodontics--the branch of dentistry concerned with the design, manufacture, and fitting of artificial replacements for teeth and other parts of the mouth. The service is yet to be introduced in Masaka hospital.
Applying Chinese traditional medicine
Dr Marcel Uwizeye, the Director of Masaka hospital, estimates that Chinese medical doctors treat at least 15,000 patients every year with an average of 60 patients treated per day during their working days.
He said the Chinese medical team supports the hospital in the areas of dentistry, general surgery and anesthesia. They also introduced Chinese traditional medicine and orthopedic surgery, which relates to the branch of medicine dealing with the correction of deformities of bones or muscles and others.
"We had gaps in skills, especially in dentistry and orthopedic in which the Chinese doctors trained ours. We currently have a team of six Chinese doctors who alternate with others every two years.
"They use also way of heating a painful part of body which seems like that of Rwandan traditional way of calming headache by heating a knife and burn a painful part of the body," he explained.
According to Dr Marcel Uwizeye, plans are underway to transform the facility into a referral hospital through e introducing services as well as increasing the capacity to treat more patients.
We need equipment with high technology. I suggest keep sending more Rwandan doctors to China for capacity building," he said.
It is expected that, among the agreements to be signed between Rwanda and China, include the expansion of Masaka hospital as Olivier Nduhungirehe, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and East African Community, recently told the media.
Scholarships, skills transfer
According to Dr Uwizeye, the cooperation with Chinese doctors has helped the staff to improve their skills.
"Between 10 and 20 of our doctors learnt the Chinese language. Under bilateral scholarships, three doctors went to study masters' degrees in China and one (in dentistry) graduated and came back to serve our community," he said.
Dr Dusabe, a beneficiary of the Chinese scholarship programme who specialised in dental implant surgery--a procedure that replaces tooth roots with metal, screw-like posts and replaces damaged or missing teeth with artificial teeth that look and function much like real ones- has worked with the hospital since 2012.
He said; "I gained a lot from China. Apart from skills improvement, I also learnt both clinical and professional experience, and flexibility," he said.