Rwanda – A Case for Palliative Care

A Blog Post by Asma Akbar

From the moment I completed my Masters in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response, I have always wanted to have the opportunity to do some field work to better understand and put my learning into practice and context. I was given that opportunity by Doctors Worldwide UK to visit Rwanda in December 2017 with two trustees, Dr. Bushera Chaudhry and Dr. Najeeb Rahman.

When I told my family and friends that I will be going to Rwanda, they assumed it was for a holiday and safari and not for something as important as helping people in need. The only thing I was dreading was the upset stomachs and malaria, so the night before I thought it would be sensible to go and buy my anti-malarials!

When I arrived at Kigali in Rwanda, I was warmly greeted by the president of Al-Amal Trust, an organisation that invited Doctors Worldwide UK to Rwanda in order to see their work and be able to engage with them in the future.

The following day, our day started at 8am and we had shaikh Omer Soliman (former vice mufti of Rwanda) as our guide for the trip. The day was full of insightful meetings discussing the palliative care project and networking with other organisations. We also met the Minister of Health for Rwanda to discuss our work and how we can provide support. After a long day we decided to go to an Indian restaurant to have something to eat around 10pm. This wasn’t a good idea! As soon as we got there the restaurant was closed but also our car decided to break down (these things are normal on the field!). After managing to get the car started again, we went back to the hotel to have our dinner at 12am (Again normal on the field!).

Doctors Worldwide UK meeting with the Minister of Health of Rwanda to discuss the Palliative Care Project

One of the most overwhelming experiences for me was visiting the patients, particularly as I did not have a medical background to provide any direct help or support. At times I had to take a step back and reflect, but although I felt helpless knowing that there is nothing I can do from a medical perspective, I knew that I was able to make a prayer for them as well as give them that encouragement and social support, albeit 5 minutes. I realised how we take for granted the health system we have access to in the UK. It was heart-warming to see how people from various ages got together every Sunday to volunteer and help patients who were dying or in difficult circumstances due to being sick. The main reason why the volunteers at Al-Amal carry out this amazing work is because it helps them to always remain humble and grateful for the health and support they have, and that this is their way in helping others who do not have the same. The patients and their families are grateful for the work Al-Amal does since they understand that things would be difficult without Al-Amal’s assistance.

 

Sunday debrief before the volunteers go and see the patients.

Dr Bushera Choudhry and Dr Najeeb Rahman visiting one of the patients from the Palliative Care Project

One of the patient’s son thanking Al Amal and DWW for their work and sharing how things would have been difficult for him without their help

One of the patients we visited was a little girl, aged 8, with cerebral palsy. She had fractured her leg and due to the lack of funds she was not able to get a cast. Dr Najeeb Rahman was showing us how badly the leg was fractured, and the following day Dr Najeeb visited her house again and put a plaster around her leg. The materials cost a total of £10. It made me reflect that things like this we would take for granted, yet it was a big struggle for people like this little girl.

Apart from the meetings we had an opportunity to visit the markets and gain an insight into the Rwandan culture. We also had the opportunity to visit Kigali Genocide Memorial (KGM). This was an overwhelming experience because it is unfortunate to see that this type of genocide is happening today with the Rohingya people. One of the most important lessons I learnt after visiting the memorial site is that history will continue to repeat itself until we decide to learn from it.

I am grateful to Doctors Worldwide UK for giving me this opportunity. I realised the luxuries we have living in the UK. Although I didn’t do much for the people in Rwanda, I certainly realised and reflected upon my own circumstances. Seeing poverty around me I was able to be thankful for the luxuries I had. I would definitely recommend doctors and non-medics to go and see this beautiful part of the world but also gain time to reflect and be grateful.

Doctors Worldwide and the Al Amal team