Rwandans in need of high level health services such as surgery often face many barriers to accessing that care. More than 80 percent of Rwandans live in rural areas, however most medical specialists including surgeons are located at referral hospitals in the capital city. Seeking care far from home brings with it expenses such as food, accommodations, and transportation. Even though Rwanda’s community based health insurance covers 90% of medical bills, these collateral care expenses can be prohibitive for many.
We believe everyone, regardless of their location or financial situation, deserves the right to access the health care they need. Our Right to Health Care program strives to ensure that all patients have access to quality health services at the tertiary level and beyond.
Addressing barriers to healthcare
Social workers at the district hospitals evaluate patients who have been referred to higher level hospitals in order to assess their needs. In emergency cases, the evaluation is skipped and the patient is automatically eligible for support. Based on that assessment, our team may do any or all of the following:
- Provide transportation
- Pay medical fees and co-pay
- Provide food
- Provide infant care supplies
In addition to being costly, seeking higher level care can be difficult if you are unfamiliar with navigating the the complex health system. The approach of our program is based upon accompaniment. We join our patients on their journey to health and do whatever it takes to make sure they get well. Depending on the needs of the patient our team may do any or all of the following:
- Book patient appointments
- Physically accompany patient in ambulance or during appointments
- Hire temporary attendants to assist patients with other needs
- Ensure patients understand instructions about medications and appropriate self-care
- Follow up to confirm all diagnostic tests are completed and all prescribed medicines are delivered
- Keep patient records for monitoring and evaluation and data driven decisions
- Support bereaved families
- Advocate for our patients’ rights
We have developed strong relationships with high level care facilities, enabling us to better advocate for our patients and access their clinical information to better inform decisions. In the eight years we have been implementing this program, we have relieved the collateral expenses and complications of health care logistics for over 4,000 patients requiring hospitalization and more than 10,000 outpatients. We openly accept challenge; we have supported 15 patients’ travel internationally to receive the care they needed when the services could not be found in country. By tackling head-on the barriers to accessing high level care, we are working to end the poverty-illness cycle.
We have presented our work at two international conferences and continue to work with the Rwandan government and other partners to spread the model of our Right to Health Care program to all of those who need it.