What African Countries could Learn from Rwanda in Tackling COVID-19

Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing economies on the African continent. A country that has a very good reputation for its innovative approach in various sectors including tourism, education, transport, manufacturing, and health care. Moreover, Rwanda provides universal health care for its 12.3 million citizens. The small East African country is one of Africa’s greatest success stories; and according to recent studies, 600,000 Rwandans have been lifted out of poverty in the past three years and continuing. This enormous success is achieved by the government’s focus and commitment to economic growth, poverty reduction, and the following people-centric development model.

After the first positive case of COVID-19 hit on March 14th, the Rwandan Government gave a timely response by announcing lockdowns and curfews to prevent the community spread of the virus.

In the early stage of the Covid-19, Rwanda implemented strict measures to mitigate the exposure by doing the following.

❖ Practicing social distancing, and a ban of gatherings including worship places, weddings, funeral, and sports events.

❖ Suspension of commercial flights to and from Rwanda for 30 days.

❖ Closure of non-essential businesses.

❖ Advising citizens to limit a paper money transfer, and opt for using mobile money and online banking whenever needed.

❖ Banning non-essential movement outside homes.

A swift and collaborative response on identifying and isolating the contacts was undertaken. Those placed under quarantine were thoroughly tested before being released to go home or for treatment. Several hotels in and around Kigali turned into quarantine centers with more than 600 tests conducted daily.

In mid-March Rwanda implemented a full lockdown, this was a week after its first case was reported, afterward, it continued setting up a contact-tracking system and implementation of testing for all staff policing borders and public servants. By early May 29,395 citizens had been tested for COVID-19 (prevalence was 0.7%), despite being the small landlocked country. More testing has been done in collaboration with the private sector. Rwanda also uses drones to deliver medical products across the country, which eliminates the wait time of the patients in an emergency. The countries’ strong health care system and a coordinated prevention method against Covid-19 have resulted in one of the lowest mortality rates on the continent. 

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“In Rwanda, the response was swift, effective, and well organized with a clear objective and clear purpose,” Vedaste Ndahindwa, an epidemiologist working in the World Health Organization (WHO) in Rwanda told Anadolu Agency. Many sector specialists work in a coordinative manner, besides the leadership is highly supportive of the action to achieve a common goal, which is eliminating the negative impact of Covid-19 on the citizens.

The Rwandan pandemic response preparation started long before many other countries at the onset of the December 19 Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. The Rwandan Government established a multidisciplinary team to evaluate and enhance the preparedness and response to the epidemic. Besides, over 500 health care workers including laboratory technicians were trained right away. A strict monitoring mechanism enables the country to eliminate the community transmission of the virus, health care workers have been to trace all sources of possible transmission.

In 2019, Rwanda had the same success story on combating the deadly Ebola outbreak from entering to their national borders. Currently to stabilize the food prices the government implemented fixed prices on food goods across the nation. Besides the fixed prices the government also restricts the amount of each product an individual can buy each day due to the fear of logistic shortage in the future.

Rwanda drones

Despite all these measures, Covid-19 has been enormously tested the country’s economy in a significant way. To protect its most vulnerable citizens, the government has prepared a food distribution scheme starting with the urban poor, who are unable to go to work, as a result, will suffer from lockdown. The food distribution also aims at controlling the fleeing of urban citizens to rural areas which can result in a wide community spread of the virus.

Like any other economy, Rwanda faces a challenge due to the pandemic, and to ease the situation, the IMF Executive Board approved a $104.9 million package to the country. Another support has also been coming from various private sector players like banks, corporate firms, and international donors. A statement from the Office of the Prime Minister on April 5 announced that senior government officials had agreed to forfeit their April salary as a contribution to fight against the pandemic. In a statement released, the Office of the Prime Minister stated, “In solidarity with the most affected Rwandans, the Government of Rwanda has decided, over and above ongoing social protection initiatives, that all Cabinet Members, Permanent Secretaries, Heads of Public Institutions, and other senior officials shall forfeit one month’s salary (April).”

Rwanda has so far achieved a lot in protecting its citizens from the spread of the virus and shielding the most vulnerable part of the society which is prone to the effects of the lockdown. This shows a collaborative and coordinative approach among a public and private sector guided by the good national leadership. I hope Rwanda, through example, continues to teach these lessons of excellence to other African countries on how to respond in a collaborative manner and honor citizens’ dignity during this pandemic.

Kudos to Rwanda!