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Rwanda’s medical tourism is brilliant

By Morris Komakech

The next time any member of the Ugandan ruling regime becomes ill, Rwanda will be a destination of choice.

The numerous reports of children and their mothers dying in Uganda’s healthcare system is not something that a citizen should be proud of. Clearly, most of the maternal-child deaths are preventable with a robust healthcare system.

There are many success stories in the African continent where communities or governments have been able to help curb child-mortality rates and Uganda could learn from these. Comparing Rwanda to Uganda to me is like comparing apples and an egg but Rwanda offers such a glaring example for us to learn from.

While Rwanda and Uganda draw much international attention over their regional aggression and total disregard for their neighbour’s autonomy, Rwanda actually has lots of concrete socio-economic achievements that one can benefit from studying.

Being an aspiring Global Health leader and a consultant in Public health, I am attracted naturally Rwanda over its robust anti-corruption and universal healthcare policies. In these aspects, Rwanda appears to be hundred steps ahead of Uganda.

Last year, I did a scoping review on maternal-child healthcare in which I compared Rwanda’s health care system with that of Uganda and South Eastern Asian countries where maternal child health is rampant.

I discovered many important lessons from Rwanda’s steady progress and vision as compared to that of Uganda and other aforementioned regions.

A great article written by a group of researchers had appeared in Maternal Health Matters, a public health journal with a focus on maternal-child health. This, article described how Rwanda’s community health insurance scheme had helped build community bond with their healthcare facilities.

The healthcare insurance, levied on sliding scale system depending on household income, ensures that Rwandese, and not the government, supervised their healthcare facilities. This approach has made healthcare become very accessible to all Rwandese, especially to expectant mothers and their new born babies.

According to the Millennium Development Goal report, Rwanda did sustain maternal mortality rate at 5% from 2000-2010. Over 52% of deliveries now are being attended to by qualified professionals and Rwanda cut its child mortality rate to nearly half from 2000-2007. One would be confident that at this pace, Rwanda would surely require just a little impetus of goodwill to transcend access issues due to difficult terrain, and to achieve MDC goals 4 and 5.

Last week, I saw a picture of magnificent hospital facility – brand new with top of the art equipment, sitting glamorously on the peak of a hill. Down the foot of hill was a projection of bravura of scenery whose deep green and haziness surely infers therapeutic appeal.

Talking to my Rwandese friend at Butare hospital on the phone about this facility, I came to learn that Rwanda has decided to invest in medical tourism. What a splendid idea?

In Uganda, we are still stuck on wildlife based tourism. Our investments are still on traditional goods such as sports goods, building materials, second hand clothing, farm implements, used rifles, expired drugs, scraps and so forth.

For many years, we know that Makerere University has trained competent medical doctors and variety of healthcare professionals. These professions in Uganda appear ineffective and almost incompetent. The same MUK graduates in Kenya, Tanzania and in Rwanda stand out as exemplary in the services they offer to their country. The explanation for such a stark difference lies in government policies and work environment.

While the government and medical professionals in Rwanda and Kenya root for medical tourism, in Uganda, their counterparts lack innovation and rely on government for livelihood at the detriment of their service consumers.

So, what does a medical tourism look like? Many Ugandans will recall President Museveni flying his daughter to Germany for delivery; Brig Mayombo and Wapakhabhulo dying in Kenyan hospital or Mzee Bidandi Ssali being flown to Bangkok in Thailand for very simple treatment.

In other words, Rwanda’s vision is such that government can invest in its medical facilities, bringing in modern equipment, train and retain some of the best surgeons and keep an efficient medical system. The next time any member of the Ugandan ruling regime becomes ill, Rwanda will be a destination of choice.

Rwanda offers many advantages, its security is very efficient, it is closer than Israel or Germany from Uganda and its services are a hybrid of culturally oriented care with western medical technology.

Medical tourism will help fund the system and boost tourism because naturally, people recovering from illness find much comfort in an appealing peaceful, clean and organised environment. I applaud the Paul Kagame leadership on its strong vision on streamlining its healthcare system and taking a leadership stride towards investments beyond basic necessity.

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