Sixteen years after about 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were killed in the Rwanda genocide, over 28 per cent of those who survived are still battling with trauma, says a new study.
According to the study presented during an international symposium on the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi, 28.54 per cent of survivors assessed suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Statistics also indicated that 79 per cent of PTSD patients are more symptomatic during the genocide commemoration period when they are exposed to traumatic images that bring back memories of what happened during the genocide, while the rest suffer long-term symptoms throughout the year.
Prof Michael Broderick, a researcher, raised debate on whether 16 years after the genocide, survivors and others should be exposed to audio-visual media as a way of mediating traumatic experiences and suffering.
During the mourning period, the national broadcaster TV Rwanda telecasts documentaries and films that show images as a way of “mediating mass human suffering in a historical context.” However, a wide section of survivors objected to this, citing post-traumatic stress.
“From the Holocaust and atomic bombings of World War II through to Rwanda’s genocide, key films can be used to demonstrate a range of approaches in fighting trauma and recovery,” Prof Broderick said.
“There might be lessons to be learned from analysing over six decades of narrative dramas addressing mass human atrocity. Rwanda’s unique experience and cultural traditions inform new models of digital storytelling that lead to empathy, understanding, reconciliation and healing both within the nation and around the world,” he added.
President Paul Kagame said if survivors are affected by the genocide documentaries and films usually aired by the country’s national broadcaster during the commemoration period, then government would consider not airing them or toning down the graphic content.
“I thought the showing of these documentaries was useful during this memorial time. If it affects the survivors, we can find other ways of keeping the memories alive. But things that affect people, I personally think we would not want to pursue this,” he added.
Dr Paul Mahoro, a mental health expert from the Ministry of Health and one of the authors of the study said that 58.92 per cent of those affected are young women who also take care of households.
The symposium was one of the commemoration activities held before the week long mourning period that started on April 7, as a way of remembering those killed in 1994. The Kigali symposium focused on fighting post-traumatic disorders.
According to Dr Vincent Sezibera, who presented the research finding, a population of young survivors assessed for the study are still exposed to post-genocide factors that predict PTSD and “comorbid disorders.”
“Age between 3-20 years at the genocide and 15-32 years at the assessment, 76 per cent met the criteria for PSTD diagnosis with girls reporting higher scores on PSTD pathologies. Also the study reports a significant correlation between PSTD and comorbid disorders common among survivors,” Dr Sezibera said.
“There are also socioeconomic adversaries, trauma reminders and poor coping strategies which have led to moderate and mediate PTSD and comorbid disorder prevalence.”
One of the speakers, Dr Angela Ebert, told participants that the survivors of the genocide have not only been afflicted by this trauma but also by other major life challenges such as HIV and the struggle to rebuild a shattered existence.
“Large scale trauma requires responses that can facilitate resilience and recovery in individuals as well as communities,” she said.
Rape was among the weapons that were used during the genocide and as a result, a number of victims are currently living with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Participants were told that some gave birth to children as a result of the rape and experience a range of trauma-induced disorders.