Rwanda’s mobile mental health clinic promotes resilience and social harmony

Justin Mambo (pseudonym) is a 46-year-old who has four children. He lives in Rwanda’s Bugesera District. His military service caused severe headaches, temper disorders, and melancholy.

“Sometimes I wake up enraged.” Mambo stated he sometimes harms his family physically and emotionally due to his mental condition. He also has trouble having relationships with his neighbours.

Like Mambo many Rwandans suffer from severe trauma and psychosocial difficulties. The 2018  survey on Mental Health in Rwanda found that various mental diseases are more prevalent than the world norm, especially among Tutsi genocide survivors. One person in six Rwandans has depression and 25% have PTSD.

The Rwandan government and Interpeace inaugurated a Mobile Clinic for mental health on 18 May 2022 to promote mental health activities that are accessible and decentralized.

A tailor-made clinic with a complete set-up was given to the District Hospital- ADEPR-Nyamata, for the district of Bugesera in order to serve people in villages, as a health facility, or public health space to screen unusual cases and refer to Bugesera Hospital whenever there was a need. It helps mental health experts deliver home-based treatment.

“We’ve had two problems. Bugesera Hospital is distant from our house, and we can’t afford a psychologist for my sister.” A mobile clinic for mental health services in Bugesera has rekindled Jeanne Uwayezu’s faith that her sister would get sufficient care.

The RMHS reports 61.7% awareness of mental wellness services vs 5.3% use. The facility will also promote mental wellness in the district of Bugesera.

The starting of the mobile unit has been a part of Interpeace’s mission to strengthen the capacity of the community for social peace and reconciliation in the district of Bugesera. The EU-funded initiative takes a comprehensive approach to mental health, social unity, and sustainable approaches to livelihoods in this region.

Sida has extended the initiative to Musanze, Nyamagabe, Ngoma, Nyagatare and Nyabihu. The clinic will meet community needs in Bugesera throughout programme monitoring and assessment.

“Mental wellness and health were vital for social peace and reconciliation; trauma recovery is key to bringing communities together,” Ben Napnau, Deputy Director of Mission of the EU representatives to Rwanda, remarked.

This was one of EU’s hallmark programmes that had shown to be very relevant and successful. EU worked with Interpeace, an international organisation, and develop partnerships with Rwandan groups to be with the communities. It was vital for durable cooperation.

Interpeace’s Regional officer for Eastern and Central Africa, Dr. Theodorus Hollander, emphasised the relationship between mental health and peace. “Peace does not mean only the absence of violence; it’s about a resilient and strong mind, community interaction, and reconciliation,” he stated.

Hollander praised local governments and the European Union for contributing to a mental health project.

The mobile clinic is a ‘one of its kind’ solution to assist the Strategic Plan for National mental wellness and health-2022-24 and Rwanda’s Development Goal 2050, which makes health and wellness a  priority of the country.

“…we have a high appreciation for this mobile health facility because it will enhance the resilience of mental health and encourage reconciliation and socio-cultural and economic situation in Bugesera,” said Emmanuel Gasana, who is the Commissioner-General and Eastern Province Governer, and also a Guest speaker in the meeting during the opening event.

The vehicle has a  workstation that is well equipped and spacious for one nurse and a doctor  (seats and fixed tables). There are two seats fixed for passengers along with internet connectivity.

It also has a foldable bed that can be used in emergencies (like an ambulance). There are two waterproof tents, which are large and can be extended as they are attachments – pre-fixed with the vehicle body. It has got a built-in noise-less generator that supplies lights and heating during a power outage.  For backup energy in remote areas without electricity there is a solar panel.

The Governor urged Bugesera District officials, hospital administration, and community residents to operate and utilise the mobile clinic effectively.