A call for social economic intervention for podoconiosis patients

Dr Peter Mugume, 5S Co-Investigator at the University of Rwanda shares his thoughts on how the 5S Foundation project is playing an integral role in the collaborative efforts to eliminate podoconiosis (podo) in Rwanda by 2030, as stipulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) road map.

Participants at the podoconiosis workshop organized by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) and HASA in January 2023

The contribution of the 5S project was evidenced during a recent five-day collaborative workshop that took place in January 2023 organised by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), which is the country’s central health implementation agency of the Ministry of Health, and Heart and Sole Africa (HASA), a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) providing podo treatment and prevention education services to patients in Rwanda.

During this workshop, the University of Rwanda’s 5S project staff participated and contributed mostly from the social and economic interventions, in addition to treatment and care for podo patients (which you can read about below).

The event focused on key issues such as:
• training health caregivers on podo case management
• accountability and management of funds
• follow up and monitoring of patients
• raising awareness on podo prevention
• campaign to end stigma as well as advocacy for podo patients to access economic activities to help them eliminate poverty

It was a timely opportunity for experts from different disciplines to learn from each other. Participants included health caregivers, finance managers, physiotherapists, directors of health centres and hospitals, project coordinators, researchers and policymakers.

A call to offer counselling services to help podo patients to cope with stigma

Mr. Anselme Nzeyimana, 5S Foundation project coordinator Rwanda presenting at the workshop.
Mr. Anselme Nzeyimana, 5S Foundation project coordinator Rwanda presenting at the workshop.

Mr. Anselme Nzeyimana, 5S Foundation Project Coordinator Rwanda, opined that non-medical interventions are essential to improve the quality of care for patients and urged healthcare givers and physiotherapists treating podo patients to recognise that these patients also face stigma, social exclusion and economic problems that can complicate their treatment and care, thus they need to pay particular attention to this while treating these patients.

He further outlined social challenges faced by podoconiosis patients such as lack of self-esteem, difficulty in maintaining interpersonal relations, stigma in the community, family isolation, challenges in finding a partner for marriage or being abandoned by their spouse after manifesting with the disease.

In conclusion, he urged all the stakeholders to make counselling services available to help podo patients cope with the community’s negative reactions, and equip patients with the skills which could help them to perform alternative jobs which don’t require walking or standing for a long time and resource mobilization for podo patients to setup economic generating activities for poverty eradication.

Practical treatment session

Healthcare workers and physiotherapists are trained to treat and care  for podoconiosis patients
Healthcare workers and physiotherapists are trained to treat and care for podoconiosis patients

Jean Paul Bikorimana, 5S Foundation PhD, led demonstrations on how to treat and care podoconiosis patients at the workshop.

Being one of the first experts to treat and care podoconiosis patients in Rwanda, he challenged healthcare givers and physiotherapists to exhibit high standards of professionalism during the diagnosis, screening and treatment stages. He explained how to identify levels of infection so patients can be treated accordingly.

He further noted that healthcare givers need to offer special attention to podo patients due to the impact of the discrimination they experience in the communities where they live. He concluded that podo patients need additional care in order for them to respond to the treatment offered, which normally requires patients to follow-up at home.

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