Reckoning with post-Genocide trauma

A volunteer tries to help a trauma victim during the 23rd commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi in at Murambi Genocide Memorial last year. File

As Rwanda continues to commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsi for the 24th time, the Government and survivors’ organisations continue to grapple with trauma related to the Genocide.

The Executive Secretary of Ibuka, the umbrella organisation of Genocide survivors’ associations, Naphtal Ahishakiye, told The New Times in an exclusive interview that though the Ministry of Health says that the numbers of those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has reduced, a significant number of survivors and young people, including those born after the Genocide, continue to battle the condition.

“Some people have had trauma related issues for a very long time to a point that it has become chronic. Most of them cannot support themselves, even in the most basic manner unfortunately. Mind you, we also have young people who are facing trauma yet they were not here when the Genocide happened. It’s a challenge,” he said.

Ahishakiye blamed this on several factors; including lack of a sufficient number of skilled psychiatrists and counselors to intervene.

“The number of professionals who can help these patients is still very small. In a village, you can, for instance, find only one. The issue could be fixed better by training more people to intervene and interact with these patients on a daily basis,” he said.

Ahishakiye also said that there were still bigger issues which continue to slow down or even make healing impossible for many.

“Let me give you an example, there are those that we talk to and they tell you that their main problem is that, after all these years, they are still homeless. Some have homes that need renovation. Then there is the poverty and the genocide ideology in some areas,” he said.

Dealing with PSTD

Figures from the Ministry of Health show that 24 per cent of all people who were diagnosed with PTSD during last year’s commemoration period are aged between 15 and 24 years old.

The ministry is yet to conduct conclusive research on the issue but the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC)’s Director of Community Mental Health Interventions Unit, Claire Nancy Misago, says that a national survey is in the pipeline to determine the numbers and how best to support them.

“We are in the first phase of the study. So far, we have approved protocol and training of data collectors. The study itself should be rolling out soon,” she said.

Misago says that, since 2016, RBC has been collecting information based on previously registered patients to support the plan for long term follow-ups on the detected cases.

On the issue of experts who have said that what some survivors suffer from is not necessarily trauma, Misago agreed and underlined the importance of pushing for the study to be conducted faster to provide a clearer picture.

“In 2017, we noticed that 90 per cent of the patients who were attacked during commemoration events were treated on site while only 10 per cent required to be taken to hospital. We felt that what others had were emotional crises and other related attacks. We also established from the numbers that we have that most patients get these attacks only during the commemoration period,” she said.

“The Mental Health Division organises and coordinates mental health care from national to community level across the country, including management of trauma cases on commemoration sites as well at health facilities,” she said.

It has also offered trainings and sensitisation programmes for health and non-health professionals, including those responsible for mental services units at hospitals, community supervisors, Rwanda Red Cross volunteers, the national police, among others, in order to ensure the appropriate management of trauma cases during and after the commemoration, to collect and report the received trauma cases, and initiate their follow up.

Speaking to The New Times last week, the Director of Health Development Initiative (HDI), Dr Aphrodis Kagaba, said that commemoration period was a critical time for mental health patients and professional help must be on standby to provide assistance.

He said they had opened two centres, one in Nyamirambo, Nyarugenge District and another in Kicukiro District, “and there are six professional counselors on standby to provide free assistance to any patient who walks in.”

Commemoration activities are being carried out at the village level.

In Kigali, later today April 11, there will be a commemoration ceremony at Nyanza, Kicukiro where over 3,000 Tutsi abandoned by UN Belgian troops to be killed by Interahamwe militia and genocidal government soldiers were laid to rest.

On April 13, there will be another commemoration ceremony at Rebero Genocide Memorial Site where over 14,000 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi are buried, including 12 politicians who were killed for standing against the genocidal government in 1994, which will mark the closure of the official mourning week.

Meanwhile, commemoration activities will go on for 100 days, up to July 3.


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