Finding a Voice for Rwandan Healthcare
For more than a decade, Health Development Initiative (HDI), a local health organization located on the outskirts of Kigali, has attended to the critical and often taboo health needs of underrepresented Rwandans including the poor and LGBTQ communities. In Rwanda, participating in sexual activity as a youth, a sex worker, or a homosexual – HDI’s target healthcare recipients – is either illegal or so heavily stigmatized that it can destroy lives and fracture communities. Therefore, seeking – and providing – care for these individuals can be a risky endeavor.
Dr. Adflodis Kagaba, the co-founder of HDI and its executive director since inception, explained the organization’s underlying philosophy, saying, “Since we have the privilege of being physicians, we have two choices. We can wait for the patients to find us in the hospital, or we can do something and prevent them from getting to the hospital in the first place.”
Using a unique, rights-based approach that targets the entire healthcare value chain, HDI has expanded to serve thousands of marginalized individuals who would otherwise have nowhere to turn for their healthcare needs. HDI not only protects vulnerable populations but also educates, informs, and teaches doctors, students, and policy makers how to secure a healthier, more inclusive future for Rwanda’s people. This approach engages all stakeholders and paves the path for sustainable outcomes. But it’s difficult to get the word out, given the associated social stigma. With little internal expertise in public communications, especially in potentially controversial subjects, the organization faced an ever-widening gulf between what they had to offer and the people who needed it most.