Posts Tagged ‘National health insurance’

What Country Has a National Healthcare Plan? Rwanda, For One

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Rwanda’s national healthcare plan covers 92 percent of its citizens at just $2 per year.  Although the African nation of Rwanda ranks as one of the world’s poorest, it does have something that the United States lacks – a national health insurance program.  Started in 1999, the program covers 92 percent of Rwandans and carries a premium of just $2 per year. Even though Rwanda’s healthcare facilities may be primitive by American standards, the fact remains that more of its citizens are insured than in the United States.

While the most common causes of death in Rwanda remain diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, malnutrition and infected cuts, community health centers typically stock all the drugs that the World Health Organization recommends as essential.  They tend to be generic copies of name-brand medicines.  These centers usually have laboratories where patients can have routine blood and urine tests, as well as tuberculosis and malaria screenings.

Since the national health plan – called health mutuals – was introduced, the average life expectancy has climbed from 48 to 52, despite Rwanda’s ongoing AIDS epidemic.  Deaths from malaria and childbirth have fallen significantly, according to Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, permanent secretary of Rwanda’s Ministry of Health.  Tests and treatments routinely performed in American hospitals such as MRIs and dialysis are not available, and patients may have to wait weeks for general surgery.  Fortunate patients who require advanced surgery can get free treatment from physicians visiting from the United States, Cuba, Australia and elsewhere.  On rare occasions, the Health Ministry will pay for a patient to be treated in Kenya, South Africa or India.

A recent study published in Tropical Medicine & International Health found that total healthcare spending in Rwanda totals approximately $307 million annually.  Given that Rwanda’s population is just over 10.7 million, total healthcare spending averages $28.60 per person a year.  Co-pays, even though low by American standards, can be unaffordable for a national populated largely by subsistence farmers whose primary currency is barter.