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Unpacking Rwanda’s plan to become a medical tourism hub

Doctors conduct a medical operation at Masaka Hospital in Kicukiro District. Rwanda has an ambitious target of becoming a medical tourism hub where people from various parts of the world can access advanced health services and training. Photos: Craish Bahizi.

By Frank Ntarindwa

August 30, 2023

Besides achieving Universal Healthcare Coverage for all citizens, Rwanda has an ambitious target of becoming a medical tourism hub where people from various parts of the continent and the world can access advanced healthcare services and training.

In line with this, the country is undertaking several efforts to develop its healthcare human resources, as well as establishing more infrastructure and bringing in the required equipment to facilitate training of the medics and treatment of the patients.

In 2020, the Government of Rwanda established the Human Resource for Health (HRH) Secretariat, an institution whose mission is to build health education infrastructure and capacity of the health workforce necessary for creating a high-quality and sustainable healthcare system.

As a follow up to the development, i a recent interview with the ‘The New Times’ long form Podcast’, Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Development board (RDB) shed light on the country’s plan to transform into a leading destination for medical tourism in the near future.

The CEO emphasized Rwanda’s strategic investments in healthcare infrastructure and technology highlighting how these initiatives are poised to attract foreigners seeking high-quality medical treatment in the country.

The country’s emphasis on healthcare has already garnered attention from the neighboring countries and beyond. “Thousands of people have been coming for treatment from different countries including Burundians and other countries in the region,” she said.

ALSO READ: How Rwanda can become a medical tourist destination

With a focus on quality healthcare and growing reputation for its commitment to innovation, Rwanda aims to capitalize on its already impressive strides in medical advancements.

During the interview, Akamanzi talked about the aspect of medical tourism which has seen its growth over the years and also the medical part plan where the government has been putting a lot of effort into improving the medical field.

Notably, she outlined specific centers like Rwanda Heart Centre and Research Foundation, Millican Eye centre, organ transplants, Cancer treatment facilities and many more that are coming up. The government has also been working on the upgrading of King Faisal Hospital and expanding the new University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK) site in Masaka, Kicukiro district. All these investments are expected to bring positive results, according to Akamanzi.

Picking from the mentioned projects on progress, the construction works at the new CHUK site in Masaka, Kicukiro District began in January, and are progressing. It is anticipated that construction will be completed in 2025. On completion, the new CHUK hospital will have 837 beds and a capacity of receiving 2,000 patients per day, making it the largest hospital in Rwanda.

About the Rwanda Heart Care and Research Foundation will be the first Non-Governmental Organization hospital offering cardiovascular healthcare services free of charge to the people of Rwanda and its region.

In addition, Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence, the first comprehensive cancer center in East Africa located in Burera district in Northern Province. Over the decade, the center designed to facilitate patient and staff flows, has comfortably accommodated patients and their attendants during extensive treatment regimens.

ALSO READ: Milestones in Cancer Care at Butaro Hospital

The construction for the headquarters of the African hub of the Research Institute against Digestive Cancer (IRCAD) is under way in Masaka, Kigali city. IRCAD is a French Institute dedicated to advancing and teaching minimally invasive surgery, particularly for gastric cancer.

Besides, the under way construction of Biopharmaceutical New Technologies (BioNTech), a next-generation immunotherapy company pioneering novel therapies for cancer and other serious diseases. The mRNA-based vaccines, is the development among others aims to scale up vaccine production on the continent.

Menelas Nkeshimana, the Head of Health Workforce Development department at the Ministry of Health, believes that this is a positive idea because Rwanda is currently working on constructing a medical city which is also known as a health city – a specialized area with advanced medical facilities and services that cater to various healthcare needs.

Doctors during an operation at Kacyiru Hospital. File

Nkeshimana explained that this development would benefit individuals who previously had to travel abroad to access medical treatment. “Now, they can receive those treatments within, as the country is dedicated to training and preparing highly skilled specialist’s doctors.”

According to Justin Hirwa, a biotechnology engineer, the move to transform into a medical tourism destination is evident in constructing essential infrastructure, including hospitals, university Center of Excellence in Biomedical Engineering (CEBE) and eHealth.

“These efforts are equipping Rwandans with valuable skills and knowledge while providing a platform for local medical scientists to showcase their capabilities.”

He added: “the move to tackle the shortage of biomedical engineers and medical specialists by introducing programs like a Master’s in Medical Biotechnology at the University of Rwanda will have a significant impact.”

According to RDB, the country operates a well-functioning, decentralized healthcare public service system comprising 1700 health posts, 500 health centers, 42 district hospitals, and five national referral hospitals.

Doctors conduct a screening exam where internet is mostly needed during the services at Legacy Clinic in Kigali. File

For the original press release, please click here.