In Rwanda, Right to Health Care program supports patients who cannot afford advanced treatment
Aline Niyizurugero, then 16, was heading home from school with her friend.
They had brought mangoes for her father and brother, who were at home cooking lunch. But when she was half a mile from her home in Kabarondo, a village bordering a busy road to a national park, a speeding motorcycle hit her from behind.
She was knocked unconscious.
Within minutes, the news got to her father Benjamin Shumbusho, from the neighbors. He rushed to the roadside to see her, fearing that he would lose his only daughter. The family of three had already suffered the loss of Niyizurugero’s mother, when she was just a baby. Another death would be devastating.
When he arrived and found his daughter, laying on the side of the road, he thought she was dead.
“I didn’t think she was still breathing,” said Shumbusho.
Desperate, he called an ambulance, knowing that emergency services could take an hour or more to arrive. The next several hours were a blur.
Niyizurugero was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room at Rwinkwavu Hospital, one of several hospitals in Rwanda supported by Partners In Health.
Inshuti Mu Buzima, as Partners In Health is known locally, has worked in Rwanda since 2005, supporting the Ministry of Health to strengthen the health system. Rwinkwavu District Hospital was the first fruit of that collaboration. In 2005, PIH transformed the broken-down facility in Rwinkwavu into a functional district hospital.
There, in the emergency room, Niyizurugero received lifesaving care, stabilizing her, though she was in a coma. But she had suffered injuries to her head and legs that would require advanced care—and a trip to a referral hospital in Kigali, some hours away.
Many families in Rwinkwavu live on less than 3 dollars a day and survive on subsistence farming, barely making enough to make ends meet, much less afford medical bills. Niyizurugero would need multiple surgeries for her head and leg and intubation to help her breathe. Such procedures are typically costly—far out of reach for most families in rural Rwanda.
Still, Shumbusho would stop at nothing to save his daughter.
“I was willing to do anything to see my daughter alive again,” he said. “I had no health insurance nor money. I was going to sell everything for the treatment of my daughter.”
It was a desperate measure that, fortunately, he never had to take. Just two days later, as his daughter remained in the hospital, staff with Inshuti Mu Buzima reached out with life-changing news.
“A lady I hadn’t met before approached me,” he recalled. “Her words at that time gave me the hope I needed. She worked with Partners In Health. She said they will be covering my bills 100% percent.”
Right to Health Care
Inshuti Mu Buzima works with several referral hospitals, which are mainly in cities like Kigali and far away from the rural areas where PIH works. Even though health care is generally accessible in Rwanda, such care comes with many hidden expenses, such as transportation, lodging, and meals. These costs are only amplified when it comes to advanced care, which often requires hours of travel and accommodation in a major city, for extended periods of time—putting this care financially out of reach for many patients and families.
To address this issue, PIH established the Right to Health Care program in the countries where it works. The program supports patients with coverage of medical bills, essentials like food and clothes, follow up care, and funeral arrangements in case of death.
“Our role is to support patients who require treatment outside the district hospitals,” said Dorcas Sifa, who manages the Right to Health Care program in Rwanda. “In a month, we support over 100 outpatients and between 30-40 inpatients.”
In Rwanda, the Right to Health Care program has served more than 4,000 patients.
That support is crucial for patients like Niyizurugero.
After nearly a month of surgeries, including multiple procedures at different hospitals, Shumbusho saw his daughter’s eyes open. She couldn’t move, speak, or eat. But she was conscious, again.
“I felt like I was tied to the bed,” she later recalled. “I didn’t know what was going on. I just wanted to go home.”
It would take two more months for her to return home. Support from the Right to Health Care program didn’t end there. Inshuti Mu Buzima staff regularly checked in with her, helped her get medications and schedule appointments, and provided financial assistance.
Inshuti Mu Buzima is also working in partnership with the Ministry of Health to strengthen the surgery ward at Rwinkwavu District Hospital by expanding the space, hiring new staff, and buying new equipment.
More than a year later, Niyizurugero reached another milestone: she started walking and speaking again.
She began dreaming again, too. As school approaches, she hopes to return to class and finish her primary education.
“I feel ready to sit in the classroom with my friends,” she said.