Rwanda: Coronavirus Crisis Fuels Mental Health Problems Among Genocide Survivors

The Stay-At-Home and social distancing mechanisms put in place by the government to stop the spread of coronavirus has hit many Genocide survivors hard with some checking into hospitals to seek mental health assistance, The New Times has learnt.

Survivors' Fund (SURF)'s team of counsellors and Peer Support Counsellors AVEGA, GEARG, and AERG have been providing telephone counselling services to over 500 survivors during the commemoration, which ended rom April 7-13.

Speaking to The New Times, SURF's Counsellor and Social Worker in Charge of Women who were raped during the genocide; Emilienne Kambibi says that of the 253 survivors who called in for assistance, 78 were found to have complicated cases that required transfer to hospitals.

Kambibi explained that many of those they dealt were those raped during the genocide and were now dealing with non-communicable diseases which mostly go hand in hand with depression and require medical intervention.

"78 of the 253 that we dealt with had complications stemming from HIV, hepatitis, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and complex trauma. Some are already on mental health medication. Non-communicable diseases coupled with social welfare challenges like lack of proper housing sometimes complicate matters," she said.

However, she pointed out that besides two who are still in hospital, most have improved since.

Kambibi also explained that said that as a result of the COVID-19 isolation, some survivors are having flashbacks resulting from relating the current measures to curb the spread of the corona virus to the genocide.

She explained that the lockdown means that survivors have not been able to commemorate in the usual way where they come together, visit memorial sites and hold commemoration events. Most have had coping issues.

"For instance, we are treating survivors who panic when they hear the public StayAtHome announcements, or hear of planes repatriating foreigners. They are unable to separate today's reality from the terrible experience where people were ordered to stay home before they were killed or how nations evacuated their citizens before the killings," she said.

The Director General of the Fund for Support to Genocide Survivors (FARG) Theophile Ruberangeyo told The New Times last week that medical care for survivors suffering from trauma and chronic diseases.

"Genocide survivors have trauma, chronic diseases and as they get older, it will require more efforts and financial means to treat them. For instance, the money we used to pay King Faisal Hospital in 2015 increased from Rwf80 million to Rwf240 million every month due to increasing diseases," he said.

King Faisal Hospital and Rwanda Military Hospital are the main hospitals that provide treatment for survivors with non-communicable diseases such as cancer, pressure, diabetes and others, he said.

So far, the fund has spent over Rwf25 billion in health programme for treating vulnerable survivors.

Valerie Mukabayire, the President of AVEGA-Agahozo, the association of Widows of Genocide says that besides mental health issues, survivors are still dealing with challenges that continue to slow down their healing process.

"We have women dealing with incurable diseases, physical injuries, and poverty due to inability to work, legal woes, and poor housing challenges. We found it pertinent to make sure that when counselor is dealing with the survivor's mental health challenges, we also make sure that the other essential parts of her life are catered for," she said.

A Rwanda Mental Health survey carried out between 2017 and December 2018 indicates that about 223,500 people sought consultation in public hospitals for mental health related treatment in 2018.

10 per cent of the above were new patients while 35.6 per cent are survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

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