Rwanda

A Rwandese woman shows her child's community-based health insurance card. {Photo credit: C. T. Ngoc/MSH.}Photo credit: C. T. Ngoc/MSH.

Eugénie, a widow in Rwanda, farms to provide for her children. In January 2012, she had surgery to remove a tumor, a procedure that would have devastated her family economically if she did not have insurance. Rwanda’s health insurance program is the most successful of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa: it supports the health of more than 90 percent of the population, including the most vulnerable, like Eugénie.

Frieda Komba, a licensed drug dispenser in Tanzania. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Each year over 10 million men, women, and children in developing countries die as a result of our collective failure to deliver available safe, affordable, and proven prevention and treatment. A recent analysis of innovations in products and practices for global health, from the Hepatitis B vaccine to use of skilled birth attendants, revealed virtually none of these life-saving interventions reaches much more than half their target population—even after as many as 28 years of availability. This reflects a vast gap between knowledge and action in global health.

Successful Health Systems Innovations

Low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) benefit from continued innovations in health products and health practices, such as use of misoprostol to prevent post-partum hemorrhage, and technologies such as internet-based mHealth applications to protect the poor from catastrophic health expenditures.  To ensure such innovations achieve large-scale, widespread coverage, they must be accompanied by much more effective health systems innovations.

Three women gather outside a Tanzanian health center. {Photo credit: M. Paydos/MSH.}Photo credit: M. Paydos/MSH.

The 65th World Health Assembly is convening this week in Geneva, beginning May 21. For six days, the Assembly will focus the world’s attention on chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), universal health coverage, mental disorders, nutrition and adolescent pregnancy, among other health issues.

This is the second time in less than a year that chronic NCDs --- such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and lung diseases --- are in the international spotlight. Last fall, the High Level Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases convened in New York, when, for only the second time in the history of the United Nations, a high level summit focused on a global health concern.

A midwife in Wau, South Sudan. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Josephine, a wife and mother of six living in rural Uganda, tried to soothe her 3-year-old daughter. The girl was suffering from diarrhea and a high fever and her crying filled the home. Recognizing that the girl's health was in danger, Josephine summoned the courage to ask her husband for permission to take their second-youngest child to the local health facility unit -- and pleaded for money to cover the travel and treatment expenses.

Requesting permission from her husband to travel to the facility was not her only choice, however: choosing to take her daughter for treatment also meant leaving her other children -- including her youngest -- unattended at home. Once at the health center, she continued to navigate the challenging road to treatment for her daughter, communicating her situation to the health providers and negotiating the financial and provider aspects of the health center system, without assistance. Relieved and exhausted, Josephine returned home safely with her daughter, oral rehydration salts, and knowledge.

Recognizing women leaders

What makes a person in the health system a good leader? Who determines that he or she is a leader? How do we empower leaders to improve the health of those around them?

A child born in Ghana today will most likely receive a full schedule of immunizations, and her chances of surviving past the age of five are far better than they were a decade ago. Today Ghana boasts a coverage rate for infant vaccination of 90 percent and hasn’t seen an infant die of measles since 2003.

Ghana has been expanding primary health care by bringing services to people’s doorsteps since the 1980s, and since the early 2000s has done so in the context of a commitment to universal health coverage. The secret to its success in child immunization has been both integration and decentralization of health services: Government funding for all health activities is provided through a "common pot." District-level managers are responsible for local budgeting and service delivery. Local staff provide comprehensive rather than specialized care.

Ghana is one of a growing number of low- and middle-income countries demonstrating that strong performance in immunization can go hand-in-hand with the aspiration of universal health coverage, access for all to appropriate health services at an affordable cost.

It’s common sense that a mother who is on treatment for AIDS, pregnant, has a sick child, and is accompanying a sister debilitated by Tuberculosis should not have to visit four separate service delivery points to receive care. Integrated health services not only make the world a healthier place, but also decrease the burden on health systems.

Integration is a comprehensive approach to service delivery. It is the transition from a vertical or horizontal approach to a diagonal, synergistic approach at all levels of a health system. Smart integration means coordinating disease specific programs (such as HIV and AIDS) with other health programs that have operated independently in the past (for example, family planning) to deliver services at the same time or, more importantly, with the same funding. Integration helps organizations maximize the impact of their health investments while allowing people, information, and funding to flow more easily among collaborating groups and stakeholders. Equally important, integration enables providers to treat the health needs of individuals and families more efficiently---regardless of the initial reason a person seeks care.

Millions of people around the world die each year from preventable diseases because they cannot access affordable health care. Developing countries often struggle with insufficient resources and they face numerous challenges trying to strengthen weak health systems. A strong health system working well at all levels, from the household to the community to health facilities to national authorities, can provide effective services to improve the health of the people they serve.

Health financing is the critical foundation for strengthening health systems and ultimately for achieving health impact. Health financing is the starting point – money is the fuel to start and keep a strong health system running. Health financing includes generating funds, distributing those funds, ensuring effective and efficiency use of funds, and protecting the poor from the financial hardship of accessing health services. Without financial resources and proper management of these resources, health workers, health facilities, and medicines would not exist. In difficult economic times, generating those resources seems an insurmountable task. Yet some countries are showing how it can be done.

At the First Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Montreux, Switzerland in November, Dr. Yogesh Rajkotia, of USAID Rwanda, moderated a panel discussion noting that Performance-Based Financing (PBF) is an effective health systems strengthening strategy. The presentations were made on behalf of the Rwandan Ministry of Health with the guidance of Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Permanent Secretary.

In 2000, Rwanda’s health system was perceived as weak: there were human resources shortages, especially in rural areas; poor quality of services; and a high morbidity/mortality rate of women and children. Since 2001, Rwanda has committed itself to better health and to pushing for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015.

PBF is a powerful means for increasing the quantity and quality of health services by providing incentives to health providers to improve performance. A PBF program typically includes performance-based grants or contracts. Health clinics and their staff are rewarded for reaching or exceeding health indicators.

Part three of the blog series: Spotlight on Global Health Initiative Plus Countries

Health Financing is Helping Rebuild Rwanda’s Health Sector

It's been over 15 years since the Rwandan genocide; few would know of the tremendous successes in health that the country has experienced. Rwanda has made good progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals since they were identified. These impressive achievements are due to an increase in essential health interventions and the implementation of new health financing mechanisms.

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