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Partners in Health revolutionizes healthcare in Rwanda

Social worker Isabelle visits mother of four Saidate to provide nutritional counselling.

April 23, 2018

By Mike Ziemerink

with files from Partners in Health

Nyota Pascaline is a nurse at Nyarubuye Health Center in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. She recently received training in Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) from Partners in Health as part of PWRDF’s All Mothers and Children Count program. The four-year project is funded by generous donors across Canada, along with a 6:1 match from Global Affairs Canada.

Since 2005 Partners in Health (PIH), which is locally known as Inshuti Mu Buzima, has been working with the Rwandan government to improve healthcare within the country. Since the end of the genocide in 1994 the country has seen its infant mortality plummet from almost 245 infant deaths per 1,000 births to now just under 40 deaths per 1,000 births in 2015, however there is still work to be done. Rwanda is in desperate need of modern medicine and healthcare, and PWRDF has collaborated with PIH to help make it a reality. PIH has worked on reducing infant malnutrition and illness, providing in-home medical support and training for volunteers and medical staff.

Training Staff

Nurse Nyota Pascaline is upgrading her skills.

In her training, Nyota learned how to assess and diagnose illnesses in children under five years old, as well as counsel parents about treatments and when to return for follow-up appointments. “I benefited a lot of things from the IMCI training that I did not have before the training,” says Nyota. “The knowledge and skills that I acquired from it are very useful in my daily work.”

Nyota continues to receive ongoing mentorship and support from IMCI to help her master her skills in providing medical treatment to children under five and to expand and put the skills that she learned in training to practical use. She says PIH support through the AMCC funding project, supported by PWRDF, has made a positive impact on the entire Nyarubuye Health Center in improving staff knowledge and capabilities.

Volunteers making a difference

Volunteers guide young patients in play.

PIH also supports a volunteer program in Rwanda called Pediatric Learning Initiative (PLI). This program trains youth who recently graduated from secondary school, typically with support from PIH, on early childhood development and the importance that play has on children’s development.

PLI volunteers at Rwinkwavu District Hospital came across a young boy named Theoneste, who had recently been in an accident and was feared to have cognitive impairments as a result. Theoneste showed signs of brain damage like impaired speech, unusual behavior and forgetfulness. This was devastating to the boy’s parents who praised Theoneste as a happy and healthy child prior to the accident.

Two PLI volunteers, Livine Nisingizwe and Alice Umulisa, began working with Theoneste encouraging him to play with different toys and played communication games with him. After a few days Theoneste’s communication skills began to improve, he asked the volunteers to play ball with him and began to recognize his parents. After this he recovered quite quickly, thanks to Alice and Livine, who were thrilled with his progress.

Theoneste’s mother was so happy to see the improvements he made and was grateful for the encouraging support of the PLI volunteers.

Home visits increase support

Saidate and her four children.

PIH also supports the Health Center Malnutrition Program at Nyamirama Health Center. This center has been able to provide a Social Worker home visit program, thanks to the generous support of PWRDF and its donors. This program allows social workers to observe potential causes of malnutrition that may not be obvious during hospital visits.

Saidate is a 31-year-old mother of four whose youngest daughter was enrolled in the program due to a diagnosis of Moderate Acute Malnutrition. Her daughter received SOSOMA, a porridge type food supplement high in protein, as well as oil and sugar. Saidate made the porridge for her daughter three times a day and saw her improve significantly, gaining three kilograms.

After Saidate had taken her daughter home she was visited by Isabelle, who is the social worker who conducts home visits from Nyamirama Health Center. During this visit Isabelle observed that Saidate had learned how and when to prepare a balanced meal for her children. She also observed other family issues that were not discussed during the hospital visit, such as the amount Saidate was working and that she was raising her four children alone.

“When you are facing problems in your life and when you have visitors come to your home it is comforting to me. Isabelle gave me advice on how to use even just a small amount of food to prepare a good meal and improve meal frequency for my child,” Saidate said.

Isabelle feels that the home visit program sponsored by PIH and PWRDF has helped to make improvements to the health of the children in the Malnutrition Program and allowed her to give better advice to parents.

Family conflicts can negatively affect a child’s nutrition – conflicts such as how to spend money, how to raise children or just general stress in a home. Identifying these sources of malnutrition may not be obvious during a hospital visit but are much easier to see during home visits.

“There was a family I visited who when I arrived I realized they had been having conflicts, but the mother never mentioned it before during malnutrition visits,” says Isabelle. “Since I was doing the home visit I was able to talk to the mom and dad and we resolved the conflict.”

PWRDF is extremely proud of its partnership with Partners in Health and all of the life-changing work that has been done to improve the health of children and families in Rwanda and looks forward to continuing to make a lasting change.