Rwanda Uses Robots And Other Efficient Ways To Keep Coronavirus Cases Low

The African nation has become a model for others in getting as many people tested as possible.

Coronavirus testing in various parts of the world remains a tall order for many, but in the eastern African nation of Rwanda, officials have sought to make it a routine part of everyone’s day.

"So whenever someone is driving a vehicle, bicycle, motorcycle or even walking, everyone is asked if you wish to get tested," says Sabin Nsanzimana, director general of the Rwanda Biomedical Center told NPR. The agency is a division of the nation’s ministry of health that is charged with addressing the spread of coronavirus. 

One of the methods the country is using are life-sized robots that can perform several tasks when it comes to testing and treating patients, according to CNN. They are able to screen as many as 150 people per minute.

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"These robots will perform temperature screening in our treatment centers. The robots will detect people walking in not wearing masks so that with the voice, the command post can quickly be informed and respond," Dr. Daniel Ngamije, Rwanda’s minister of health told CNN, noting the machines can capture sound and visuals from patients and notify workers when anything is abnormal.

Workers wearing protective gear administer nose swab tests to Rwandans who voluntarily take the tests. "All these samples are sent that day to the lab," said Nsanzimana. "We have a big lab here in Kigali. We have also six other labs in the other provinces."

Rwanda is making an effort to identify every coronavirus case within its borders. The task has been difficult in developing nations. The annual per capita income there is about $2,000, so testing is provided for free.

According to data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, the country has confirmed 1,435 cases with four deaths and 752 recoveries. By comparison, some states in the United States record that number of cases in one day. Rwanda, a nation of about 12 million people, believes they can be a success story when it comes to prevention of the disease.

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The testing method seems to be what is working for its health infrastructure, and thousands are tested each day. By using a process called “pool testing” where 20-25 swabs are placed in individual vials and run through a machine, many more samples can be tested simultaneously. If there are any positive results, those swabs get individualized tests to hone in on the person who has been infected.

"The main machines we are using for COVID testing are the HIV machines that were (already) there," Nsanzimana says. "We are using the same structure, same people, same infrastructure and laboratory diagnostics, but applying it to COVID testing."

Rwanda’s response has impressed those who have been monitoring the coronavirus pandemic in Africa, a continent already plagued by the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as Ebola.

"Rwanda did a few things that are quite smart," says Sema Sgaier, the head of the Surgo Foundation, whose data tool monitors coronavirus trends on the continent. "One is they responded really early. They put some of the most stringent lockdowns in place compared to every other African country. In fact, we've been monitoring physical distancing data across the continent and Rwanda fares, I think, second; they've physical distanced the second most across Africa," with South Africa being number one.

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Tolbert Nyenswah, who ran the Liberian ministry of health's response to Ebola in 2014 also praised Rwanda’s response and credited the leadership of its government.

"Rwanda, from all indications, is a success story for Africa," he told NPR. "No country is out of the woods yet, "So what needs to be done is to follow the (prevention and containment) measures. Political leadership is very, very crucial. Rwanda should continue what it is doing now. And other countries should emulate Rwanda."

For the latest on the coronavirus, check out BET’s blog on the virus, and contact your local health department or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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