Rwanda calls for tougher penalties as medical negligence cases rise

Sunday February 18 2018

A pharmacy in Kigali. Cases of medical

A pharmacy in Kigali. Cases of medical negligence in Rwanda have increased sharply in the past few years. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NATION 

By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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Cases of medical negligence have increased sharply in the past few years, raising concern about the level of professionalism in the country’s medical sector.

According to the Rwanda Medical and Dental Council, cases of medical malpractice doubled from 12 reported in 2014 to 27 in 2015 and 34 in 2016.

The figure slightly reduced to 27 last year; with most culpable departments being gynaecology, paediatrics and surgery.

According to the chairman of Rwanda Medical and Dental Council, Emmanuel Rudakemwa, more people were reporting medical malpractice, but the high number of cases is a concern to the sector.

“It is a good sign that more people are coming out to report when they are dissatisfied with medical services. It is the right thing to do.

“Investigations have been conducted and culpable doctors have faced disciplinary measures like suspension and deregistration. Victims have also been compensated. We want to sensitise the public about their rights to professional medical services,” said Dr Rudakemwa.

Data from the council shows that since 2008, two doctors have been deregistered and four were suspended for a period of six months.

Those suspended for a period of three months were 69 and those issued with final warning letters were nine.

Cases

Some of the cases involve doctors performing incorrect medical procedures or prescribing the wrong medication, which in some cases led to the death of patients.

A recent case involving five victims who were prescribed the wrong medication by La Croix du Sud Hospital, saw them awarded Rwf33 million ($38,280) as compensation by the court.

An increase in such cases has ignited debate about whether compensations, suspensions and deregistration of medical practitioners are enough, especially when serious medical errors result in death.

Some victims said in cases where negligence is proven, criminal proceedings should target specific doctors or nurses.

Protection

Director of Never Again Rwanda, Joseph Nkurunziza, said criminal liability should only be considered in cases where intention to do harm is established.

Dr Nkurunziza said doctors need to be protected because in many instances errors are a result of complicated medical procedures, such as during surgery, and not because there was intention to cause harm.

Under the Medical Professional Liability Insurance Law, patients are protected against bad health services and have a right to access medical procedures that meet the standards set by the Ministry of Health.

However this law, which has existed for five years, does not have a mechanism to enforce it — meaning that many victims have no way of seeking compensation.

But, a ministerial order seeking to create a mechanism to enforce the law, is expected to be in place this year, according to the Ministry of Health.

The country suffers from a lack of sufficient medical professionals, which is reflected in its 1:10,000 doctor to patient ratio, which is way below the minimum ratio of a 2.5 health workers per 1,000 patients set by the World Health Organisation.

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