Health Minister Dr Daniel Ngamije has announced shift in policy of how people in quarantine and those carrying the COVID-19 virus will be handled going forward.
If you are put in quarantine and then isolation, says Dr Ngamije, you will be required to cover costs of food and accommodation. The new changes were discussed by cabinet it its Monday session, which also relaxed the some aspects of the control measures.
Since February when the pandemic took a turn for the worst globally, up until the first case was identified in Rwanda on March 14, to date, all costs associated with quarantine of suspected cases, are covered by government. For all the 14 days or more that all people in quarantine, their food, accommodation, testing – were on the taxpayer.
In addition, the government also covered all costs of people whose results came out positive and were put in isolation for treatment. They were essentially guests of the state.
“COVID-19 is like any other illness. Time has come that people start to contribute to what the government does for them while on treatment until they are declared negative,” said Dr Ngamije, in local interviews. “In any case, Rwandans have been accustomed to covering a portion of their medical bills.”
The health minister is referring to the health insurance scheme, where depending of the program, either for civil servants or security forces or ordinary Rwandans, they cover between 15-25% of medical bills. The rest is subsidised.
On Tuesday, 11 new COVID-19 positive cases were identified, bringing total to 308. However, 209 people have recovered.
The change of policy to start charging patients and those in quarantine, has yet to be implemented, as government looks at its practicability, according to the health minister. But very soon it is coming into force specifically targeting people who travel outside the country.
In Kenya, it found itself dealing with a major scandal last month as dozens of people in quarantine jumped over walls to escape from a government facility. They were running away from the charges imposed on them. Some were intercepted later.
For Kenyan patients infected by the virus, they have been required to cover costs of their treatment. But then, government has recently changed policy and is covering all costs for isolation and quarantine. It was in response to public outcry.
For Rwanda, the health minister says there will be different quarantine facilities to cater for people in different economic categories. The rich will have what fits them, and so will those with less means.
The health minister said: “We will conduct an extensive sensitisation so that everyone knows that once they travel out of the country, they should be prepared to cover some costs of their quarantine.”
Currently, isolation and treatment are being done at a special facility, Kanyinya Health Center, located about 15km from Kigali city. However, there are quarantine facilities in different districts of the country where suspects are kept for up to 21 days at no cost.
It remains to be seen how Rwandans will react if the policy shift is implemented. Could it make people adamant not to seek to be tested fearing the expenses that may come.