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Rwanda, 2 November 2016: With its new oxygen plant, Ruhengeri Hospital is saving more than just money

© UNICEF Rwanda/2016/Houser
The concentrators at the new oxygen plant at Ruhengeri Hospital.

MUSANZA, Rwanda, 2 November 2016 – Nestled at the foggy, evergreen base of the Virunga Mountains, the north-western city of Musanze is bustling with tour operators, hotel owners, cross-country buses, and market vendors. Billboards advertising the famous gorilla treks appear regularly throughout town, and emerald tea plantations blanket the surrounding hills.

Along the main road, on the way to the border city of Rubavu, sprawls Ruhengeri Hospital. As the biggest hospital in the province, Ruhengeri currently serves both Musanze and Nyabihu Districts. Ruhengeri is also in the process of becoming a provincial hospital, a level above its current status as a district hospital. With this new status in the Rwandan healthcare system, Ruhengeri will soon be responsible for serving the entire Northern Province.

Eight years ago, the University of Rwanda appointed Ruhengeri as a teaching hospital. Students were sent here to learn and practice; as a result, the hospital received more specialists and technicians to assist the students. However, this also resulted in a higher patient load due to more referrals with the knowledge of improved facilities. The hospital found itself in need of more equipment and more nurses, and struggled to serve the growing number of patients. Overburdened and unable to provide top quality care, Ruhengeri had a high number of newborn and maternal deaths.

However, in January 2014, UNICEF mobilized a grant from General Electric (GE) and built a brand new oxygen plant at Ruhengeri, including new concentrators and pipelines to deliver oxygen through the hospital. Previously, the only oxygen plant in Rwanda was on the eastern edge of Kigali, and Ruhengeri was forced to purchase costly oxygen canisters and pay to transport them to Musanze.

© UNICEF Rwanda/2016/Houser
Dr. Leon Ngezahayo, Clinical Director at Ruhengeri Hospital, discusses how premature babies are kept stable with oxygen from the new plant.

Emmanuel Bagiruwigize is a District Health Advisor with Access Project, an NGO working in health and nutrition. Emmanuel has worked with Access Project since before 2014, when they partnered with UNICEF to implement the oxygen project. “We actually had our own concentrators,” he explains, “but they were producing oxygen at only 90 per cent purity, and they required a lot of electricity. Sometimes we would lose power, and the generator would take three, four, five minutes to turn on. In that time, if you are depending on oxygen…you can’t survive.”

UNICEF and Access Project have ensured that the GE grant has provided a sustainable solution. In addition to building new concentrators for the plant, there is a special generator exclusively for the plant, and hospital staff have been trained to use oxygen properly. Oxygen piping can be found throughout the hospital, in the operating theatre, in the neonatal ward, and in recovery rooms.

Dr. Leon Ngezahayo came to Ruhengeri in 2014 as Clinical Director. At his previous post, there were no oxygen concentrators and he struggled to provide care. He describes his job at Ruhengeri as “easier” and says he is “able to solve problems easily” because of the availability of oxygen. He calmly states, “Frustration is not a problem.”

To illustrate the benefits of the oxygen plant, Dr. Ngezahayo described the case of a woman who arrived at Ruhengeri, bleeding to death from a complicated Caesarian section. “She came from Rubavu, over 60 kilometers away. She had very little blood, and she was gasping. She was losing too much blood. But we were able to save her because our technician could intubate immediately and stabilize her with oxygen. Then I was able to provide additional care and stop the bleeding. If we didn’t have that oxygen and she had needed to travel to Kigali, she would have died.”

The hospital is also saving money, sometimes up to four million Rwandan francs per month. With funds previously used to purchase and transport oxygen from Kigali, they are able to purchase expensive speciality medicine and pay for facility improvements and more staff.

Violette Ayingeneye, Director of Ruhengeri Hospital, describes further how they have benefitted from the new oxygen plant from GE. “Many babies were being born with asphyxia, but with oxygen we have quick improvements and few complications. Health providers have become more confident, because they know that if they need to prescribe oxygen, it is readily available.”

Emmanuel adds, “The patients have also gained confidence…in the services and in their doctors.”



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