Rwandans travel to Burundi for healthcare

Since a national insurance system was launched in Rwanda, citizens regularly cross the Burundi border to get better, cheaper care.

Rwanda is a poor rural country with and although it has a national insurance system, local hospitals are every strict on not offering free treatment even if just one family member at an address is not recorded as having paid for their health insurance card. Records are poorly kept and hospitals use any excuse.

Across the border in neighboring Burundi, doctors and nurses are less strict; the National Health Service is also much less expensive, and available both for Burundians and Rwandese. The Burundian health service is fast and efficient and often treats Rwandese patients first due to the distance they travel.

Another advantage for patients crossing the border is that several Burundian hospitals are close to the border with Rwanda. Going there costs less than being transferred to more distant Rwandese hospitals. The subscription to a private insurance is optional in Burundi, as opposed to Rwanda where it is a compulsory national insurance scheme run by private insurers.

The currency exchange rate also affects the medical exodus to Burundi. One Rwanda franc is worth more than two Burundi francs. So care is cheaper in Burundi.

The migration of Rwandese patients started as soon as the nation’s compulsory private health insurance policy was launched in 2009. The authorities did not understand why a large number of people living near the border had still not subscribed to this new universal access to health care. Very poor people from the overpopulated region of the North, who came East searching for arable lands, were the first to go to the Burundian health services.

It has become normal for Rwandese people who live near the Burundian border to go over the border just for minor treatment.

Burundi, one of the world’s poorest nations, is struggling to emerge from a 12-year, ethnic-based civil war. Half the population lives below the poverty line.