Crowds overwhelm 3 free clinics in Rwanda

Some of the 800 people waiting at the free clinic in Gisenyi, Rwanda, on Sunday, May 15. [Photo: Andrew McChesney/Adventist Review]

Some 6,500 patients may be treated, topping the goal of 6,000.

May 18, 2016

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Gisenyi, Rwanda

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Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist Review

Three Seventh-day Adventist clinics operating on the sidelines of a major evangelistic series in Rwanda have provided free medical treatment to more than 4,500 patients and will likely exceed their goal of 6,000, the church’s top doctor for East Africa said Wednesday.

Hundreds of people have waited in long lines for free medical, dental, and vision care from 130 doctors and nurses in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali; the lake resort of Gisenyi; and the southern city of Butare.

“The volunteers — the doctors and nurses — have been wonderful,” said Dr. Fesaha Tsegaye, coordinator of the three clinics and health ministries director for the Adventist Church’s Central-East Africa Division, which includes Rwanda. “They are positive, passionate, and loving, and they always go the extra mile to assist the patients.”

About 2,400 patients received treatment at the biggest site, in an Adventist church building in Gisenyi, from May 12 through May 17, when it closed, Tsegaye said.

“We were overwhelmed,” Tsegaye said in an interview. “On Sunday there were almost 800 people. We had to be systematic, so we said, ‘We can only see 400.’”

Volunteers created a waiting system to handle the crowd, distributing pieces of paper with handwritten numbers to let patients know their place in line. Patients who couldn’t receive treatment on the same day could return the next and get back their place in line.

“We saw at least 50 percent of those who came Sunday,” Tsegaye said. “But by Tuesday, we had covered most of those clients, so we are really happy.”

In Kigali, 1,400 patients received treatment from May 12 through May 17. The clinic will reopen on May 21 and 28. The Butare clinic saw 750 patients from May 11 through 17. It planned to close Wednesday afternoon and reopen for a final day on May 22.

Many of the doctors and nurses volunteering at the free clinics have full-time jobs elsewhere and have to return to work, Tsegaye said.

Tsegaye earlier told the Adventist Review that he hoped 6,000 patients would receive assistance, but he said Wednesday that the number might reach 6,500.

“We’ll meet our goal. It might be a few more — 6,500 — but we’ll meet our goal,” he said.

Similar free clinics have been organized by Seventh-day Adventists elsewhere. In May 2015, a free clinic at the site of an evangelistic meeting in Zimbabwe cared for more than 34,000 people in two weeks. Last month, about 8,500 people received free healthcare in a Los Angeles convention center in the U.S. state of California.

Rwanda’s clinics are a new experience for local church members, and Tsegaye said he hoped to organize three or four a year.

“We will continue,” he said. “We have learned a lot of lessons from this.”

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