Espérance Mutoniwase: A Call to Compassionate Healthcare

 

“…..in order to create a better future for global health, it is crucial for the world-leaders to acknowledge that the fact that a problem will be expensive or hard to solve is not a good enough reason to postpone it for when there will be more resources or more time. We cannot allow ourselves to wait for the “better day” in order to deal with what are commonly seen as big and difficult problems”

~ Espérance Mutoniwase, University of Chicago Class of 2019

I often say that Rwanda is one of the most beautiful and reviving places on earth, but my judgment could be biased because that is the same place where I spent most of life and where my most cherished dreams are grounded. I was born soon after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, so I witnessed my country’s total rebirth as I was growing up. Rwanda has made incredible progress since 1994; it currently has one of the highest school enrollment rates in Africa and has been recently ranked one of the safest countries in the world. That being said, every single sector in Rwanda has made remarkable progress during the past twenty years, including the health care sector.

Rwanda has moved from being a place that didn’t have any standing health facility to being a place where everyone has access to medical insurance through “Mutuelle de Sante” (a government health insurance that everyone can have access to, regardless of their financial status). Almost all Rwandans have access to basic health care services in the country. The Rwandan ministry of health has relentlessly worked on creating awareness on health-related issues, such as the importance of balanced diets as well as how to prevent and deal with diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, to name a few. However, giving someone free, or affordable access to malaria treatment for example is great, but providing decent healthcare services for more complex diseases is equally important. Therefore, even though one would have to be very unreasonable to undermine the progress that my country has made over the past 20 years, it would also be unreasonable to say that Rwanda has finally made it. Rwanda is not exactly where it needs to be. We still have a long way to go and more problems to solve as a country.

Rwanda has started to work on more complex health care issues such as cancer treatment, but the Rwandan health care sector would not have taken this path if policy makers hadn’t concluded that the lack of access to specialized health care services for people with a low income was a problem that needed to be addressed. The endeavor of covering every Rwandan’s basic health care needs would not have been undertaken in the first place if the country’s leaders were not convinced that every Rwandan deserves decent care. Therefore, the extra effort needed to move from satisfying people’s basic needs to satisfying the complex ones embodies compassion, love, mercy towards each other, as well as acknowledging the humanity we all share.

It might be tempting to think that the incredible way in which Rwanda’s health care sector has evolved over the past twenty years requires effort that it is very hard to be replicated in other places. However, the key to the progress that my country has made is simple: compassion and team work — the idea that all Rwandans should be able to access decent services, and that all individuals are equally valuable. This idea is what led the Rwandan government to invest a lot of effort in making basic health care services to everyone in different parts of Rwanda, and it is the same idea that is driving the current national efforts of making special health care services more accessible to the majority of the Rwandan population.

The progress that Rwanda has made is not a result of a single individual’s efforts; rather it is a result of the Rwandan population’s efforts, in addition to the help of foreign partners. This shows that as long as leaders of a group are convinced by the idea that equity should be the basis of all their endeavors, then great things can be achieved. Therefore, the need for systems that are based on compassion should not be restricted to Rwanda. In order to create a better future for global health, it is crucial for the world-leaders to acknowledge that the fact that a problem will be expensive or hard to solve is not a good enough reason to postpone it for when there will be more resources or more time. We cannot allow ourselves to wait for the “better day” in order to deal with what are commonly seen as big and difficult problems; after all, we can not confidently make the assumption that everyone will live long enough to see that better day.

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