Rwanda has become a reference point as a champion of healthy lifestyle initiatives, as other African countries adopt the car-free day, an initiative the country started in 2016 to boost healthy living through collective exercises and combating of non-communicable diseases.
On the January 13 this year, Ethiopia held its second car-free day event, where people from the capital Addis Ababa and other towns like Dire Dawa, Bahir Dar, Hawassa, Adama, Jimma, Mekelle and Jigiga, participated in the event.
Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe are also introducing their own car-free days, as African countries step up efforts to control lifestyle conditions, which are said to be on the increase.
In Rwanda the car-free day started as a monthly event in 2016 as a City of Kigali initiative, but a year later it was made fortnightly, on the recommendation of President Paul Kagame after he attended it in 2017. The number of participants has since been growing.
"It started as a response to the lack of enough sports and gym facilitates where people can go and exercise, beyond the collective exercises other partners like the Ministry of Health joined to offer free testing for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, eye testing, breast cancer and so on," said Jean-Claude Ruzindana, the director of social services at the City of Kigali.
He said the initiative gave the ministry's Rwanda Biometrical Centre an easy platform to reach out to people through healthy education efforts, and to also follow up to those who have been found to have certain conditions especially those that fall in the NCD cluster.
The car-free day runs from 7am to 10am, and during this time the city of Kigali closes roads from Centenary House in town all the way to Amahoro Stadium, with the group exercise and testing activities taking place at the Rwanda Revenue Authorities headquarters.
Government is expanding the initiative outside the city so that more people can benefit from the communal exercises.
"Most of the participants are people who know about the benefits of exercise, but we want to also bring on board those who normally do not participate in sports or any sort of exercise," he said.
Kigali is encouraging the private sector to come and be part of the event, because there is value they can also derive from this.
"Exercising is a cross-cutting factor in controlling non-communicable diseases; the number of people coming for screening during the car-free day is increasing which is a positive" said Dr Gilles Ndayisaba, who heads the non-communicable diseases division at the biometric centre.