In the local language of Kinyarwanda, Ubuzima means health. And for Dr. Sowaf Ubarijoro, ubuzima also means opportunity.
Although over 90% of Rwanda’s population is covered by public health insurance, specialized services can still be extremely scarce. This gap forces locals to travel abroad for more sophisticated medical services, like pulmonary or cardiac or reproductive health treatments. For economically vulnerable or gravely ill patients, the travel can be the difference between life and death. Dr. Sowaf Ubarijoro experienced this gap in Rwanda’s health care system and committed to ensuring more adequate health care options for Rwandans.
He launched Ubuzima Policlinic in 2011 to offer laboratory analysis, paediatrics, gynaecology, internal medicine and minor surgery in addition to basic health care services. Unlike many public clinics, Ubuzima is open 24 hours a day,. When his client base increased from 35 patients per month initially, to 350 patients per month within 8 months, Dr Ubarijoro realised that the need for specialised medical care was greater than he had anticipated.
The speed of growth gave rise to cash flow constraints, particularly with delays from insurance providers, which made it impossible for Dr Ubarijoro to obtain finance from traditional lenders.
Since receiving a loan of US$107,957 for GroFin in 2012, Ubuzima has been able to fulfil working capital requirements and even expand the clinic to include a new dentistry practice. Turnover has grown tenfold in less than 2 years to over US$134,000 per year and as a result, Ubuzima has been able to expand its staff from 18 to 23. Patient coverage has multiplied tenfold and the clinic now serves upwards of 10,000 patients per year.
Whereas previously Kigali natives would have to travel as far as Kenya, Ubuzima enables them to access speciality medical procedures locally. This cuts out the delays of evacuating and reduces risk of death in transit. And as more Rwandans can access better health care, a healthier labor force becomes more productive. And this helps local economies and societies become more prosperous.
Given the economic and social ROI of health investments, it’s no surprise that even the Rwanda government is following suit. As of 2013, the Rwanda Development Board launched a new strategy to begin building up Rwanda’s medical tourism sectors. As Dr. Ubarijoro can testify, medical care has an almost endless demand and boundless potential for social impact. Indeed, health is wealth.