The Ministry of Health (MoH) and its affiliate agencies and partners on Wednesday, May 10, gathered at the Kigali Genocide Memorial to commemorate and remember the former staff of the ministry who were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The event served as a tribute to the individuals who lost their lives while serving in the health sector, highlighting their unwavering commitment to providing care even in the darkest of times.
The commemoration began at the Ministry of Health headquarters, where officials, families, friends, and affiliated agencies gathered to pay their respects.
Wreaths were solemnly laid on a memorial headstone located at the ministry's premises, honouring the memory of over 49 former staff members.
Following the memorial ceremony, the attendees proceeded to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi. There, they paid their respects to the victims laid to rest in mass graves with wreaths, a symbolic gesture of remembrance.
As part of the commemoration ceremony, the group gathered at the memorial's amphitheatre where they listened to testimony of Alexia Mukampazimaka, a survivor and former staff member of the Ministry of Health, who shared her harrowing tale of survival.
Mukampazimaka lived in Nyamirambo when the Genocide started and found herself trapped in a community torn apart by violence.
However, fate intervened when her husband fell critically ill, and she courageously embarked on a treacherous journey to seek medical help.
Navigating through numerous roadblocks and facing the constant threat of execution, Mukampazimaka said it was nothing short of a miracle that she and her husband managed to reach safety.
Being a member of the national blood transfusion programme in the health sector during those dark times posed its own set of difficulties for Mukampazimaka. As a Tutsi, she faced discrimination from her Hutu colleagues who held positions of authority.
The racial divide created an additional layer of adversity, with Mukampazimaka recalling instances where she was subjected to mistreatment and exclusion.
However, amid the darkness, there were moments of humanity and kindness that shone through.
Mukampazimaka expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the brave neighbours who put aside the divisive barriers of race and ethnicity. Their support and assistance were instrumental in ensuring the survival of her family until the day they were ultimately rescued by the heroic Inkotanyi forces.
During the commemoration event, Minister of National Unity and Civic Engagement, Jean Damascène Bizimana, delivered a powerful speech that drew attention to a disturbing reality.
With a tone of deep sorrow, he mentioned that some individuals who were entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding people's health were directly implicated in acts of violence and genocide.
The minister revealed that as of this day, the judicial system has convicted 68 doctors and 89 nurses for their involvement in perpetrating genocide crimes.
Bizimana went on to address the underlying systemic issues that contributed to the involvement of healthcare professionals in such heinous acts. He expressed his concern that the health sector had a significant number of individuals who became perpetrators, attributing this phenomenon to the lack of opportunities provided to Tutsi children to pursue higher education necessary for medical practice.
He emphasised that the historical exclusion and marginalisation of Tutsi individuals within the education system had profound implications for the healthcare sector.
Without access to the education and training required to become doctors or nurses, many Tutsi youth were denied the opportunity to contribute their skills and knowledge to the medical field.
This systemic barrier not only limited the professional growth of Tutsi individuals but also created a void within the healthcare workforce, allowing for the infiltration of those with malicious intent.
During his speech, Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Minister of Health, shed light on the profound impact of the Genocide against the Tutsi on the health sector.
He highlighted the devastating consequences that unfolded within the medical community, revealing a grim reality that some doctors turned into perpetrators of violence, while others became victims themselves. The remaining healthcare professionals experienced severe post-traumatic stress disorder, leading to an alarming 80% loss of the workforce.
Dr Nsanzimana acknowledged the immense challenges faced in the arduous task of rebuilding the health sector, even 29 years after the Genocide. Despite efforts made, significant gaps persist in the number of doctors per population, posing ongoing obstacles to the provision of quality healthcare services.
In light of these challenges, the Minister of Health left the audience with a powerful message. He assigned a critical responsibility to all healthcare personnel, urging them to strive for excellence in their work and to actively reject any behaviour or working patterns that mirror the atrocities witnessed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.