Reflecting on Universal Health Coverage in Rwanda

{Photo Credit: RMA}Participants at the 19th Rwanda Medical Association's Annual Scientific Conference and General Assembly.Photo Credit: RMA

"Marginalized populations are not always a few people at the extreme margins of society; sometimes they make up the majority of the population,” said Dr. Koffi Ange Houngbedhi, SDGs Center of Africa, at the Rwanda Medical Association’s 19th Annual Scientific Conference and General Assembly. “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to encourage an integrated approach to development, with a focus on the most vulnerable people. We must therefore muster political courage to embrace universal health coverage as a human rights enterprise."

On December 15-16, 2017, over 150 members of the Rwanda Medical Association (RMA) convened in Kigali to discuss evidence-based, practical solutions to scaling up universal health coverage in Rwanda. This annual scientific conference serves as a platform to discuss issues that are pertinent to the health sector in Rwanda and in the region. This year’s conference, co-organized by the USAID-supported and MSH-implemented Rwanda Health Systems Strengthening (RHSS) Project, aimed to raise awareness among physicians and medical doctors to strengthen their role in Rwanda’s vision of achieving universal health care access.

"We must show integrity, compassion and concern for others in our day to day practice. We need to develop and maintain a sensitive and understanding attitude towards patients." --Dr. Emmanuel Rudakemwa, Rwanda Medical and Dental Council Chairperson

With the ambition of becoming a middle income country by 2020, the Government of Rwanda, through the Ministry of Health, set its eyes on universal access to healthcare for all Rwandans. By 2004, the Ministry launched a community-based health insurance (CBHI) scheme to provide access to healthcare for the roughly 94 percent of Rwandans who were not enrolled in private or other government sponsored health insurance programs. CBHI, more commonly known as Mutuelle de Santé, is now one of the largest public health insurance plans in sub-Saharan Africa. On average, between 75 to 85 percent of the population is enrolled in this health insurance scheme.

“Equity means that by achieving UHC, everyone who needs health services should have access to them, not just those who can afford them.” --Maria Mugabo, Head of Family Health Program in World Health Organization – Rwanda

Although Rwanda has made great strides on the road to achieving universal health care, there is still work to do, including: improving the quality of health services; leveraging partnerships between public and private health insurance programs to further reduce the financial burden of healthcare services for citizens; sustainably retaining human resources for health; engaging the private sector to stimulate increased private sector investment in health; automating health services; and addressing the burden of non-communicable diseases in Rwanda. All of these challenges were sub themes of the conference.

The Rwanda Health Systems Strengtheing (RHSS) Project, implemented by Management Sciences for Health, partnered with the Rwanda Medical Association to organize the conference and worked with the Ministry of Health, WHO, USAID and others to develop impactful content that would challenge all participants of the conference to reflect on their role in helping Rwanda achieve UHC.

Given MSH’s more than ten years of health systems strengthening experience in Rwanda, the RMA entrusted the RHSS Project with presentation, participation and moderation on every session that took place over the two-day conference.

“I cannot express my gratitude enough to Mr. Alain Joyal and his team for all the support received during the organization and proceedings of the 19th Annual Scientific Conference of RMA. The success of the conference has depended a lot on the MSH team, and I do hope that you will continue to support the new Board of RMA.”--Dr. Kayitesi Kayitenkore, President of the Rwanda Medical Association (2013-2017)