First Lady calls for collective efforts to heal trauma

Her Excellency Mrs Jeannette Kagame with (L-R) Hon Patrick Ndimubanzi – State Minister in the Ministry of Health, Mrs Annonciata Kaligirwa – Chairperson of ARCT RUHUKA and Dr Vicnent Sezibera – President of Rwanda Psychological Society, at the National Trauma Symposium.Courtesy.

First Lady Jeannette Kagame has called on members of Rwanda Psychological Society (RPS), together with other partners within the field of trauma and mental health, to collectively find lasting solutions to the issue of trauma, that remains a challenge to Rwandans, especially survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi.

Mrs. Kagame said this yesterday during her keynote speech at the opening of the two-day National Trauma Symposium, that brings together organisations and individuals working in the field of mental health, as well as beneficiaries of existing initiatives.

Mr Charles Habonimana, Author of Moi, Le Dernier Tutsi on a panel during the National Trauma Syposium

The symposium, themed “Embracing trauma management from grassroot initiatives to institutional interventions”,  aimed to give stakeholders a platform to reflect upon, assess and document best practices, lessons learned and challenges faced during the past 25 years after the Genocide against the Tutsi.

“We know where the people who suffer from trauma are located and those who specialise in treating their condition operate under an umbrella organisation. To me, it seems like we already have a collective solution. We should not be working together only during the commemoration period,” she said.

ArtRwanda – Ubuhanzi artist Maximillien Muhawenimana exhibiting his art pieces around the theme of the 25th commemmoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi

Mrs Kagame reminded those in attendance that the Genocide against the Tutsi was committed in a specific way, and that it the reason why the wounds and trauma, sustained as a consequence, should be treated as special cases.

“There is need for extensive research into how some people cured their own trauma and the results should be published so that it’s a model that can be used to fight trauma,” she explained.

Mrs Kagame pointed out that, rebuilding a nation whose people were facing different types of mental illnesses as a result of their horrific experiences during the Genocide against the Tutsi was challenging, but it had been achieved by men and women who had put others’ interests above their own.

 National Trauma Symposium

The first day of the symposium, was an opportunity for experts in the field to present the progress, as well as challenges, faced in terms of dealing with mental health in Rwanda and, more specifically, in healing trauma.

Key Findings:

In her presentation, the head of the Mental Health Division at the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC), Dr. Yvonne Kayiteshonga revealed to participants that the although the general population was dealing with various mental health issues, these issues were more prevalent among the survivors.

More specifically, she pointed out that according to the Rwanda Mental Health Survey (2018) 11.9% of the general public suffer from Major Depressive Episodes, while Genocide survivors affected by this mental disorder make up 35%.

Dr kayiteshonga also highlighted that 3.6% of the general population are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), while Genocide survivors suffering from this disorder came up to 27.9%.

Abuse of alcohol and other substances was also sited among the challenges.

Imbuto Foundation booth at the National Trauma Symposium

“Alcohol Use Disorder was found at 1.6% among the general population, and 4% in Genocide survivors. Substance Use Disorder, on the other hand affects 0.3% of the general population and 1.1% of Genocide survivors,” she revealed.

Dr. Kayiteshonga further explained that with all mental disorders combined, Gasabo takes the lead at 36.7% and Nyabihu at 5.8% in terms of prevelance.

She added that while 61.7% of the population was aware of where to find mental health support services, 38.3% were not making use of these services.

Dr Vincent Sezibera delivering his remarks during the National Trauma Symposium

Also speaking at the symposium, Dr Vincent Sezibera, President of the Rwanda Psychological Society, called for the improvement of quality and delivery of mental health support services.

“We all need to improve the services received by those with trauma, especially as a consequence of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. They need help to manage the pain and the traumatic events they endured,” he urged stakeholders.

Bodo Immink, the GIZ Rwanda Country Director, representing partners at the event, pledged his support to continuing efforts in the country.

Her Excellency Mrs Jeannette Kagame delivering her remarks during the National Trauma Symposium

Dr Yvonne Kayiteshonga from presenting the 2018 Rwanda Mental Health Status report findings, during the National Trauma Symposium

“Institutions have made great efforts to provide psychosocial support services. We also hereby pledge to support these efforts in realizing a healed and reconciled Rwandan society,” he said.

Through the key discussions and recommendations from the two-day symposium and going forward, organisers hope to create strategies to ensure the treatment for trauma related issues, as well the promotion of mental health and psychological related interventions across the country.

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