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What helps Rwanda suppress COVID-19 early?

NEWS
By Xinhua | August 21st 2020
A worker disinfects walls at a church in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, July 19, 2020. (Xinhua/Cyril Ndegeya)

Rwanda was recently recognized by the chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) as a country that was able to suppress the COVID-19 early.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attributed Rwanda's progress to a combination of strong leadership, universal health coverage, well-supported health workers and clear public health communications.

As of Tuesday evening, the densely populated nation with an estimated population of 1.2 million reported 2,171 cases in total, including 1,478 recoveries and seven deaths.

Since the reopening of airports on Aug. 1, Rwanda hasn't seen a surge in new cases and reported more recoveries than new cases in all but three days.

Strong leadership

The Rwandan government showed a strong will in ensuring that the preventive measures -- keeping social distancing, regularly washing hands, wearing face masks in public, avoiding contact when greeting -- are well implemented, Ismael Buchanan, a senior lecturer of political science at the University of Rwanda, told Xinhua.

The leadership, including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, took the lead in creating awareness on the preventive measures against coronavirus among the public, he said.

Kagame, who won 98.79 percent of the votes in 2017's presidential election, called upon the public to continue following the directives of the government and stressed the guidelines as early as March in a message on the pandemic.

The government also takes measures like lockdown, mass testing, curfew, mandatory testing on arrivals travelling by air.

Under the leadership, the central African nation formed the National Task Force led by the Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente and the COVID-19 Command Post that consists of professionals from different sectors.

The government's response to the COVID-19 has been robust and rapid since the country recorded the first case on March 14, Rwandan epidemiologist Vedaste Ndahindwa told Xinhua.

Considering the present number of positive cases and death cases, Rwanda's measures towards containing the spread of the virus has been "very effective," said Ndahindwa.

A smart mobile robot introduces itself in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, May 19, 2020. The country put high-tech robots into use to fight COVID-19. (Xinhua/Cyril Ndegeya)

Universal health coverage

Testing and treatment for COVID-19 is free in Rwanda, except for travelers entering Rwanda by air since the reopening of airports on Aug. 1.

So far, nearly 310,000 people have been tested.

According to health officials, Rwanda can test 4,000 to 5,000 samples per day, increasing from the initial 300 to 400. The government is still building the capacity of testing, treating and tracing at provincial levels.

Rwanda has seven sites that can test and the capacity is going to increase, Rwandan State Minister in charge of Primary Healthcare Tharcisse Mpunga told Xinhua on July 20.

"I think for us the outbreak is under control...our teams are able to detect new infections, trace and test contacted people, and also isolate those who are infected," he said.

"Getting the basics right provides a clear picture of where the virus is and the necessary targeted actions to suppress transmission and save lives. This means that where there are cases, the government can quickly implement targeted measures and focus control efforts where they are needed most," said Tedros, referring to Rwanda's testing and treatment policy.

Putting in place COVID-19 laboratories, testing and treatment of patients, tracing and isolating contacts including providing them accommodation and meals costed Rwanda 60 million U.S. dollars within four months, July's official figures showed.

Well-supported health workers

There are two types of health workers helping in the response to the pandemic, including those hired by the government and volunteers from international organizations working in the sector of human resources, and they are assisted by the government in terms of communication allowance, meals and other necessities, Mpunga told Xinhua in a separate interview.

During the lockdown, which has turned into a curfew, all government vehicles were dedicated to helping to fight COVID-19, including providing health workers with transport, he revealed.

The ministry of health selected and trained experienced health workers and deployed them to COVID-19 treatment and quarantine centers, he said, adding that all the health workers at those centers have been given necessary materials to keep them safe.

Clear public health communications

Media campaigns to educate the population about the COVID-19 preventive measures and enforcement of these measures by the police and local leaders are playing a "key role" towards helping Rwanda contain the spread of the virus early, Ndahindwa, an epidemiologist said.

According to the state minister Mpunga, Rwanda has designed "clear communication guidelines" from national to community levels to communicate COVID-19 preventive measures through various media channels.

Personnel from different institutions such as Ministry of Local Government, the police, as well as the private sector are involved in communicating and cooperation has been made to transfer messages from the national level to the community level, he said.

The government is also working with religious leaders to talk about COVID-19 during worship, since places of worship meeting the conditions on preventing the spread of COVID-19 were reopened, according to Mpunga.   

By Xinhua writers Lyu Tianran, James Gashumba, and Frank Kanyesigye

Covid 19 Time Series

 

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