by Lyu Tianran, James Gashumba, and Frank Kanyesigye
Experts have said the lockdown imposed by the Rwandan government contained the spread of the novel coronavirus from its urban areas to the countryside, although COVID-19 cases have been reported in all provinces, which are mostly rural.
The comments came a week after the World Health Organization (WHO) sounded alarm over the rapid spread of COVID-19 to rural parts of Africa.
WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti last week said the spread of the viral disease from capital cities to rural areas in the continent, which often lack the resources of urban centers, should be addressed as a matter of urgency to prevent a public health crisis.
Under Rwanda’s lockdown, effective since March 21, people are not allowed to move out of Kigali, so the majority of cases were localized in the capital city, epidemiologist Vedaste Ndahindwa told Xinhua on Thursday in a telephone interview.
By halting human movements between different cities and districts, Rwanda was able to break the chain of transmission between Kigali and rural areas, said Ndahindwa, a lecturer of the School of Public Health at the University of Rwanda who is working with WHO in Rwanda in emergency preparedness.
The small landlocked country, with a size of around 26,000 sq km, is divided into four provinces and Kigali city, under which there are 30 districts, meaning people’s movement is limited in a relatively small area due to the ban.
The lockdown also closes the border and forbids non-essential movement and visits outside home.
As of Wednesday, COVID-19 cases have been reported in all the five provincial-level regions in the country, among which Kigali had 123 cases and the remaining areas 11 cases, local English daily The News Times reported earlier on Thursday, citing a health official.
The ministry of health said Thursday evening that the total number of confirmed cases rose to 138, including 60 who had recovered.
All the patients in the four provinces were travelers from other countries or Kigali, Director General of Rwanda Biomedical Center Sabin Nsanzimana was quoted as saying, noting that the lockdown curtailed the spread of the virus to rural communities.
Ndahindwa, the University of Rwanda lecturer, said cases reported so far in the four provinces haven’t become a “burden” as Rwanda is at the stage of “sporadic transmission” with some imported cases, whereby the authorities are able to identify the chain of transmission.
Rwanda would face a major challenge if “community transmission” occurs, whereby the chain of transmission is unknown, he said.
As part of its control and prevention measures, Rwanda has been monitoring “all hospitals” and “all districts,” according to Ndahindwa, who closely follows the COVID-19 epidemic in Rwanda.
The patients in the provinces were localized “as quickly as possible” and all their contacts timely isolated and followed by health personnel, he said.
Ladislas Ngendahimana, a political analyst who serves as secretary-general of the Rwanda Association of Local Government Authorities, told Xinhua that limited facilities and poor awareness among residents could pose a challenge to the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic in rural areas, but the government’s control measures, especially the lockdown, will be able to contain COVID-19 in rural Rwanda.
However, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic response and the post-crisis management require more investment in public awareness, community engagement, education of local leaders, and mindset and behavior change.
“We should not be short-sighted with the current limited number of cases, because the COVID-19 keeps spreading,” Ngendahimana said. “The future shall largely depend on the choices we make today.” Enditem