This photo was taken out of the window of a car while traveling on a bumpy red-dirt road back from Butaro, a remote, rural community in the Norther Province of Rwanda. The photo doesn’t capture the beauty of the region and the volcano in the distance, but it does offer a good sense of the terrain in the area. Imagine having to cross the water in the picture via a small boat to reach the closest hospital or having to try and walk down the mountains by foot. Now imagine trying to do this while pregnant or ill.
Thankfully, today people in the Burea district of the Northern Province no longer have to make such a trek. A hospital was built in Butaro in 2011. It later added a cancer treatment center – the first rural cancer center in East Africa and the first public facility to provide cancer treatment in Rwanda. Before it was built, cancer care was physically and financially out of reach for many Rwandans – treatable cancers were a death sentence.
It was amazing to see the progress made in providing health equity to the region. The hospital also helped spur more development in the region – like access to electricity and running water. And it was the impetus for a project to pave a road from Kigali to Butaro. When the road is finished it should halve the time it takes to drive from the capitol to the hospital. It was incredible to learn about the hospital’s impact on the people of the region and the ways the facility has improved over the years. For example, they used to have to send tumor biopsies by mail to other countries to make cancer diagnoses. Now the hospital has the technology and staff to make most diagnoses themselves. When they need the support of specialists, they have internet access and the ability to get assistance in hours or days instead of weeks.