Free testing and robot caregivers: The COVID-19 success story in Rwanda

Despite its limited resources, Rwanda has done everything in its power to quell the spread of the coronavirus. Whereas it can be hard to get tested for COVID-19 in many places, in Rwanda, you might just get tested randomly as you’re going down the street.

“So whenever someone is driving a vehicle, bicycle, motorcycle, or even walking, everyone is asked if you wish to get tested,” says Sabin Nsanzimana, director-general of the Rwanda Biomedical Center. Health officials in personal protective equipment administer the test—and although it’s voluntary, refusal is generally frowned upon.

The sample collection — from a swab up the nose — and filling out the contact information paperwork takes about five minutes. Anyone who tests positive is immediately quarantined at a dedicated COVID-19 clinic. Any contacts of that case who are deemed at high risk are also quarantined, either at a clinic or at home until they can be tested.

This may sound very strict, but it is working. Since recording its first case in mid-March, the country of 12 million has recorded just over 1,200 cases. Ohio has a similar size population and has recently been reporting roughly 1,200 cases a day.

Rwanda mobilized community health care workers and police and college students to work as contact tracers. It set up national and regional command posts to track cases. It’s even using human-sized robots in the COVID-19 clinics to take patients’ temperatures and deliver supplies. Whether the people trust or fear the government, Rwandans listen to their government and have been following the orders regarding masks, washing hands, and staying home.

For all of us, Rwanda is an example to other low-income countries that even with limited resources, this virus can be contained. 

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