About 200 survivors of the Rwandan genocide, with disfigurements or disabilities, are to undergo plastic surgery. They will be operated upon by visiting surgeons from India and Nigeria.
Theophile Rwemarika has been waiting for this moment for almost twenty years. Along with other survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, he sits in a waiting room in the University Hospital of Kigali. "For 19 years, I could not move my left leg," Rwemarika told DW. "I also have bullet splinters under my right knee," he added.
Now Rwemarika and around 200 Rwandans, who have undergone similar ordeals, are to have surgery. Seventeen plastic surgeons from India and Nigeria are visiting the Rwandan capital Kigali for ten days, during which time they will be operating on the genocide survivors. The medical team, led by the Indian surgeon Dr. Ranjit Bhatia, is in the country at the request of the Rwandan health minister, Agnes Binagwaho.
Local media say the treatment will be free for the patients. Support for the project has come from the Rotary Clubs of Rwanda, India and Nigeria and the International Rotary Foundation.
Long waiting list
The doctors were in Rwanda on a similar mission one and a half years ago. There is a big demand for their specialist skills. Around 2,900 people, who were permanently injured or disfigured during the genocide, are still waiting for treatment. according to the Rwandan Health Ministry.
A memorial for victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda
Rwanda does not have enough plastic surgeons of its own to cope with this backlog of cases.
During the 100-day Rwandan genocide in 1994, more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered by Hutu extremists.
Rwemarika, now aged 40, narrowly escaped death back then as a young man when he was attacked by members of the Rwandan Interahamwe militia. The visit by the Indian and Nigerian doctors has brought hope to him and thousands more who were injured. "Scars, burns, disfigured faces," said Dr.Bhatia, “all these problems can be alleviated or cured by surgery.”
Hope for the stigmatized
While many patients, like Rwemarika, have suffered disabilities for years, other survivors who were disfigured have had to bear the brunt of stigmatization.
Bhatia said doctors can restore disfigured faces. The medical possibilities open to him and his colleagues were far greater than those found in many other countries, he added.
The Indian surgeon told of a case in Malawi in which someone's nose had been bitten off by a dog. "Even specialists in South Africa could not help, but our Indian doctors gave the patient an artificial nose," he said.
John Nyombayire from the Rotary Club in Kigali was involved in the organization of the doctors' visit.
He said the list of possible patients was drawn up by the association of the genocide survivors. "They have the necessary information," Nyombayire told DW in an interview, "that's why we asked them to identify those in need and bring them to us."
As the operations began on Tuesday (01.09.2013), hundreds of patients from all over Rwanda had flocked to Kigali hoping for a chance to be operated on.