UGHE Drivers Serve as Bridge between Patients and Critical Cancer Care During COVID-19

Since Rwanda was placed on lockdown, UGHE drivers like Vincent Singiza have transitioned from transporting UGHE students, staff, and faculty, to patients and health care workers in need.

This is a time of crisis globally, but it is also a time where unity and collaboration can triumph if countries, organizations and individuals find innovative ways to support one another and, where possible, put the resources they have available towards strengthening the national, and community response. As part of its ongoing commitment to serve the most vulnerable, UGHE made the decision to put both its vehicles and staff at the service of Rwanda’s essential health workers and vulnerable patients, to ensure their mobility between key health facilities during a time of limited movement in lockdown. In line with COVID-19 guidelines, UGHE’s Butaro Campus home in the north of Rwanda is currently closed to all except the delivery of vital food and medical provisions, and so it’s minibusses would otherwise have remained unused in parking. With authorization from the Government of Rwanda, they instead became critical transport for patients needing regular cancer treatment to Kanombe Military Hospital, as well as for health workers to Butaro District Hospital, a comprehensive health facility built through a partnership between Partners in Health, the Government of Rwanda, and Clinton Foundation, and adjacent to UGHE’s Campus in the rural north of Rwanda. 

Vincent Singiza is one of UGHE’s Drivers helping fulfill this equity-driven mission on a daily basis, ensuring patients living remotely or rurally can travel safely to access quality oncology care, whilst supporting the continuation of life-saving treatment within medical facilities at a time when usual travel is suspended. Between shifts in his driving schedule, we spoke to Singiza about what it means to contribute to the Rwanda’s wider national and community response to COVID-19, and ensure the cycle of treatment is not interrupted at this time. 

Vincent Singiza is part of a team helping transport cancer patients to their appointments, as well as essential health care workers.

How has your role changed during the Coronavirus period? 

In a nutshell, it surprisingly hasn’t changed much. As a driver my role is similar; I still transport people between places. But now my work supports patients instead. I take cancer patients from where they live to a variety of hospitals in different provinces of Rwanda, and there they get a check-up or consultation and, once they finish their treatment, we make sure that they are dropped back. The UGHE Drivers also help to distribute medicine for those who need treatment but cannot get to a clinic as they are living in the village. We always try to connect those living near a hospital with this hospital, or we take others who live far away closer to a medical facility. 

How do you keep yourself and others safe whilst driving? 

My job also involves mobilizing people to understand how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There were some people who didn’t remember the guidelines for protecting themselves, even adults, and so I had to remind them to wash their hands before getting in, and make sure that they were sitting at a comfortable distance from each other and myself in the car to protect them from potential transmission of the virus. There were some who wanted to sit as is usual in normal times, and I told them that in order to keep safe from the pandemic, we must all take the right steps and cooperate. 

How do you feel your role as a driver of patients is contributing to government efforts to keep us safe and protected from the virus?

I feel my role is valuable. Even if it is currently a difficult time because of people’s fear of COVID-19, we must all try to pay attention to what needs to be done to prevent it. In my role, for example, it is to facilitate patients reaching the hospital to have treatment according to the time of their appointment. With cancer care, it is important that the doctor’s instruction is followed step-by-step so that the treatment is successful. 

Country lockdown has made it very difficult for patients to reach the hospital on time as for those people living remotely, they struggle to reach help. When I pick them up from their village to take them to the Cancer Treatment Center, I also get a chance to advise some of them to follow government measures so that, if they are also infected with COVID-19, they do not add to the pandemic by infecting others. Whilst these patients are firstly treated for cancer in the hospital, health workers also check for them for COVID-19 symptoms to make it easier for the government to trace and test others in their village, and to keep the patient in quarantine if the tests are positive.    

Do you need protective equipment to transport patients? 

We always wear a face mask to protect our passengers from potential infection, and carry a thermometer to check the temperature of the patients so that we know if there are any symptoms of fever. We also carry hand sanitizer for washing hands before they get into the car; all these things comply with the instructions given to us by the government to prevent further transmission. 

How have you been supported in your new temporary role?

UGHE has supported me as much as possible. Even though in March and April we were in total country lockdown, UGHE have done everything possible to help me get transport from home where the car is, and back again.  Now is a difficult time for all workers, but UGHE has supported my physical and emotional wellbeing to keep me, and the patients I transport safe and protected during this period.