Rwanda: Experts - Universal Health Cover Will Reduce Burden on Economy

Photo: New Times
Doctors at Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe (file photo).
22 November 2018

Experts have called for proactive measures to achieve universal healthcare coverage in order to reverse the trend where millions of people are pushed into extreme poverty by unaffordable healthcare.

One of the main challenges is chronic diseases - also known as non-communicable diseases - such as cancer, diabetes, kidney, and heart attack, among others, which experts say cost a lot of money and the vulnerable citizens are burdened by the medical bills.

They made the call on Thursday during a two-day East and Central Africa Social Security Association (ECASSA) Policymakers' Conference in Kigali.

Such chronic diseases are expensive in terms of treatment, and are not only burdensome to the patient, the country and even the insurance sector, according to the Minister for Health, Dr Diane Gashumba.

Underscoring the need for universal health coverage, ECASSA Secretary-General Frederic Ntimarubusa said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 100 million people are pushed into poverty and 150 million suffer financial catastrophe because of out-of-pocket expenditures on health services every year.

"Consequently, universal health coverage is the priority that ECASSA shares with the UN through its development agenda, as demonstrated by its inclusion among the Sustainable Development Goals," he said.

Prevention is crucial in controlling NCDs because it's cheaper compared to covering medical expenditure, Minister Gashumba said, explaining that the best practices include regular physical exercises, healthy feeding, and taking regular checkups to monitor the state of one's health.

Rwanda has Community-based Health Insurance Scheme - Mutuelle de Santé, introduced in 2005 - which theMinister for Health said currently covers 81 per cent of the population, while others are insured with other schemes such as RSSB and other private schemes.

However, Mutuelle does not currently cover all diseases, especially chronic ones.

"This is the most critical scheme we need to continuously capitalise," the minister said adding that under Mutuelle, the Government is fully subsiding health contributions for vulnerable Rwandans, who account for 16 per cent of the country's population.

Going forward, Gashumba said, the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), which is in charge of the management of pension and the health insurance plan, will revisit Mutuelle de Santé so as it covers all medical conditions for subscribers, or at least most.

RSSB Deputy Director General for benefits Dr Solange Hakiba told The New Times that Rwandans need to get all the medical services under Mutuelle de Santé and that this is their wish, but they are limited by financial constraints.

"When people are diseased, they dont work, when we give them the means to get treated, they are able to work, improve their living conditions and will be able to contribute to the health insurance scheme in the future," Hakiba said.

The World Health Organisation says that for people, especially the economically vulnerable, to be able to lift themselves out of poverty, there should be effective universal health insurance.

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