Cynics in the old East African countries call them ‘lunatic resorts’. There is Kamenge ‘kwa Rojanti’ (Le Gentil) in Burundi, Mirembe in Tanzania, Mathare in Kenya, Butabika in Uganda and Ndera in Rwanda. All are psychiatric hospitals which, when mentioned in the same breath as your name, can lead to you being shunned like the plague.
So, you can understand the reason for my apprehension when I was advised to visit Ndera Hospital.
However, my problem had nothing to do with my mental faculties and so I obliged. I expected to be greeted by a jamboree of noises and disorderly people and objects but, surprisingly, I found people calmly sitting on properly arranged benches in an orderly and clean waiting room.
I got my file opened and was led to the neurology department through neatly kept lawns, where I joined patients in another airy waiting room.
Thinking back to the ruckus I’d encountered when I first visited the hospital in 1995, I found this to be a big improvement.
But I could not marvel yet. After all, how long was I going to wait? Unfortunately, by the time I was called in the consultation room it was almost mid-day. For someone who’d reported at 7hrs15 that morning, that waiting was long. Where I thought everybody is supposed to report on duty at exactly 7, the doctors sauntered in at around 8 o’clock.
However, when eventually the doctor was through with me, I was happy. I witnessed the caring attention that the sole duo of Dr Fidèle Sebera and his assistant, Dr Beni H. Uwacu, pay to their patients.
And these patients include all shades of the Rwandan society, from the high and mighty with their exclusive health insurances down to the poorest with their 1000-Fr-per-year (less than $2) ‘mutuelles de santé’ insurance.
After witnessing the way the two doctors doggedly go about their work, I was filled with hope. No doubt one day the hospital will get more neurologists and then they can lighten their work and share ideas.
Even about being late, I began to think that maybe they had had to do the rounds of their patients in wards first. I’ll investigate.
Anyway, that was not the end with ‘my nerves’, for I was referred to King Faisal Hospital for multiple tests. The last time I’d visited the hospital was around 2005 and I’d not been overly happy. I hadn’t appreciated their sluggish service and the uncaring doctors.
Again, then, it was with apprehension that I went. From the ‘Rama’ insurance side, I knew I’d go to the reception for the file. Then to another reception to wait for God-knows-what. Then sit donkey hours for the doctor to call me.
When I made to go to the reception, I was told to just pay. Then I was led to a room that housed a machine that is said to exist only in four other African countries, which are much richer than Rwanda.
The capsule-like MRI machine ‘hummed through my bones’ until I almost ejected myself out!
I can slight the doctors and the nurse on not warning patients about the scare in advance, yes, but otherwise I was amazed that, except for those thirty minutes in the ‘capsule’, I was through within less than 15 minutes.
For the next test, I went prepared to wear out my seat. And, indeed, there were four patients before me. Considering the time I spent with the doctor and his assistant, though, I realised the two hours I’d waited had not been long. Dr Rudakemwa Emanuel and his ‘sonographer’, Ndayizeye M. Pascal, pore over you with the care of a mother, as Dr Rudakemwa explains everything they are doing.
Back at my workstation, I wondered: who was driving this turn-around? I sought out and met the acting CEO of the hospital for a chat. Dr Alex M. Butera is a slender young man who would look more in place in a lecture room.
However, his enthusiasm reveals his impatience to see a medical institution that is among the best in the world.
And I must admit I’ve been witness to a good number of the facts that he rattles off. From top-notch medical equipment to the best medicines, patient facilities, customer-care and the empowerment of the employees, without forgetting that the hospital has gone digital.
“Look,” says Dr Butera, pointing through the window, “that is a helipad. From anywhere in the region around, a patient can be evacuated, while being given first aid.”
I thought of the bus accidents of sometime ago, one in Uganda and another in Burundi, and the earthquake in Rwanda, when all the victims were evacuated and brought to Faisal.
The interesting part is that this world-class hospital caters for poor and rich Rwandans alike. It sponsors anyone to hospitals outside Rwanda if it is unable to treat their disease. It also caters for non-Rwandans and its capacity this far is being tested.
Can the young doctor’s dream of Rwanda one day being a health hub come to fruition? The enthusiasm with which his leadership is pushing for that dream in his sector to be reality, and dreams in other sectors, I see no reason why not.
After all, as someone said, what “we have now was once among the things we only hoped for.” Rwandans, feed your dreams. Singapore was not built in one day!