A new directive by the Ministry of Education requires all students planning to study abroad on government scholarship to undergo a drug test at a recognised hospital in the country.
An official statement by the Rwanda Education Board (REB) indicates that prior to the students’ departure, they will be required to show a medical certificate proving that they are drug-free.
Speaking to The New Times on Monday, Janvier Gasana, the director general of REB, said that the decision to introduce the new requirement was based on the fact that drug abuse and misuse has increasingly become one of the biggest issues among young people.
“We all know that the issue of drug abuse is becoming a serious problem among students and in society, not just in Rwanda, but globally. We want to protect Rwandan students who go to study abroad,” he said.
Gasana added that it will not just stop on testing them before leaving the country, but the government will be working with all Rwandan embassies across the world where students study to follow up on them and their studies.
The move, he said, is also part of establishing and maintaining an updated database of Rwandan students mainly those living abroad in order to continuously support them.
“The government makes a lot of investments in making sure that Rwandans obtain quality education. It would be absurd in the end to know that the youth don’t play the role that their country is expected them to play simply because of using drugs,” he noted.
Gasana highlighted that they have in the recent past experienced cases of deportation of students, expulsion from universities, and repetition rates, some attributed to drug abuse.
“We have had students who have failed school because of using excessive drugs and others have been deported. We don’t want these cases to continue,” he said without offering details.
The statement states that the directive concerns all Rwandan students studying or those who intend to study abroad on government sponsorship, co-operation scholarship or private sponsorship.
The directive comes few weeks after President Paul Kagame urged all Rwandans to join hands to defeat the growing problem of drug abuse, which he described as a global epidemic.
It also comes at a time when smoking of water-pipe tobacco, commonly known as shisha, has been banned, a problem that had also become prevalent among the youth.
Dr Jean-Damascene Iyamuremye, the director of Psychiatric Care at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), said that the move is one of the many measures to deal with drug abuse.
“It is important that the education institutions have taken such a move. In fact, I believe it should not be limited to students who study abroad. It should be extended to students in local schools as well. However, testing alone isn’t going to curb drug abuse,” he said.
Iyamuremye said that addressing drug abuse and misuse requires concerted efforts and strategies from several institutions as well as Rwandans.
Currently, Ndera neuropsychiatric hospital and Huye Isange Rehabilitation Centre (HIRC) are the main centres that deal with alcohol and drugs-induced mental illness in the country. Iyamuremye said that there is, however, a need to equip other hospitals with standard medical equipment.
“We need high standard equipment that we can use to test which types of drugs exactly that youth are taking, because we are experiencing the use of heavy and dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroine,” he said, citing cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco among the commonly used drugs in Rwanda.
Rita Umuhire, a Rwandan student in China, believes that this may reduce cases of drug abuse among Rwandan students who study abroad, although she says it would not completely stop the vice.
There are about 150 students who are fully sponsored by the government at various universities abroad annually while about 50 study on cooperation scholarships.