Poverty & Healthcare

Healthcare for the poorest

From 1999, a national health insurance system was set up in Rwanda. Payments are low – at around two dollars per year – and over 90% of the population belongs to the scheme.


HealthcareIn this video... A doctor from the SOS Children's medical centre talks about some of the healthcare issues in Rwanda and the country's health insurance scheme.

Two dollars may not sound much, but the poorest struggle to pay even that. Reforms to the insurance system will introduce grading according each person’s ability to pay.

Operations and specialist treatment have to be paid for, but the health insurance covers basic medical care for all the common illnesses. With more than 1.2 million cases of malaria and over 7,000 cases of tuberculosis in 2009, this is a huge financial burden for the country. Foreign organisations (such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria) provide grants to help fund the costs.

A nurse at work in a Rwandan health facility

Shortage of doctors

Though hospitals, medical centres and dispensaries have essential drugs and basic lab facilities, they are lacking in specialist equipment and personnel. White-collar professionals were especially targeted during the genocide of 1994, leaving a severe shortage of trained medical staff in the country.

In 2000-2010, only 221 physicians were registered as working in Rwanda (according to the World Health Organization). This means that for specialist fields such as heart or brain surgery, the doctors can be counted on one hand.

Vision for the poor

With almost two-thirds of people living below the poverty line in Rwanda, malnutrition rates are high among children. Nearly two out of every ten young children (less than five) are underweight and over half are stunted.


Under its ‘Vision 2020’ strategy, Rwanda hopes to transform itself into a middle-income nation, decreasing levels of extreme poverty from 60% of the population to 25% and raising life expectancy to 65 years.

To improve nutrition among the poor, the government set up the Girinka/ ‘One Cow per family’ Program in 2006. This scheme gives poor families a cow so that the milk can improve their children’s nutrition.

Over 90,000 families have received a cow and the target is for 350,000 families to benefit eventually. If an animal produces a female calf, this is passed on to another poor family.

Children and orphans

Around 140,000 adults (aged 15 or over) are living with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda, around 3% of the population. The epidemic has meant an estimated 130,000 children have lost either one or both parents to the disease.

This has added to the already high number of orphans created by the genocide of 1994.

According to the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF), 690,000 children in Rwanda are without one or both of their parents.