By David HIMBARA
General Paul Kagame is in talks to establish the first mRNA vaccine plant in Africa. Meanwhile, his government’s fantasy of transforming Rwanda into regional medical tourism is in high gear. Medical tourism in Rwanda is dead on arrival. Rwanda has 1,518 doctors in a population of 12.5 million. The top-ranked hospital in Rwanda, King Faisal Hospital, has 85 doctors and a mere 160-bed capacity. Rwanda is a nation without doctors.
General Paul Kagame has grabbed international news headlines with the proclamation that he is at the forefront of establishing the first mRNA vaccine plant in Africa. Meanwhile, at the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) extended National Executive Committee meeting of May 1, 2021, chaired by Kagame, Claire Akamanzi, the CEO of Rwanda Development Board, made a startling announcement. She revealed that Rwanda’s latest scheme of making Rwanda rich is to turn the country into a medical tourism hub. Previously, Kagame claimed he was transforming Rwanda into an ICT hub, logistics hub, conference tourism hub, and financial hub. Each of these plans died on the drawing board.
Medical tourism hub is dead on arrival. Rwanda has neither the human resources, infrastructure, nor the financial means to build a medical tourism industry from scratch. Currently, physicians per 1,000 people in Rwanda is 0.1 below the Sub-Saharan Africa average of 0.2.
A report commissioned by the Rwanda Development Board in 2014concluded that Rwanda’s health professionals and medical infrastructure could not compete with those in the neighbouring countries:
“In comparison to regional competitors Rwanda has the least number of hospitals with any form of certification…The quality and quantity of doctors is a key challenge. It is estimated that there are currently 633 doctors, 7,286 nurses and at least 130 medical specialists in the country…Specialists such as orthopaedic surgeons and ophthalmologists are even fewer, eight and twelve respectively.
The low quantity of medical professional severely impacts the quality of health care in Rwanda. This challenge is further aggravated by the fact that most of Rwandan doctors are recent graduates who have very limited work experience. Limited equipment and infrastructure further contribute to the quality challenges of Rwanda’s health care system.”
Fast forward to 2020. According to Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, the number of health professionals in Rwanda in 2020 was 13,527 of whom 1,518 are physicians, 10,447 nurses, and 1,562 midwives, in a population of 12.5 million.
Meanwhile, the Kigali-based King Faisal Hospital, which is the top-ranked hospital in Rwanda, has 85 doctors and a 160-bed capacity. The Hospital is the anchor of Rwanda’s medical tourism strategy. According to Dr. Edgar Kalimba, Deputy CEO of King Faisal Hospital, the hospital receives an average of 300 medical tourists per month from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Wish Kagame and Akamanzi some luck in their fantasy of launching a medical tourism hub in a country without doctors.