The outpatient first aid and ambulance services was started by the Government of Rwanda 11 years ago, with a mission of providing free medical phone advice and in some cases pre-hospital treatment or optimised hospital orientation especially during disaster situations or emergencies.
SAMU mainly operates in Kigali but also works with different hospitals across the country. Reports show that most patients request for SAMU services through their free toll line, 912.
Among those patients, 60% suffer from fatal injuries with 80-90% of them being victims of road accidents, 20% of SAMU of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure among others.
Between 10 and 15% of SAMU patients are pregnant women while the remaining 4% are children with different conditions.
Dr. Theophile Dushime, the Division Manager for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the Ministry of Health told IGIHE that the first priority is caring for the patient before requesting for payment.
"Our objective is ensuring first that the patient’s life is not at risk then proceed with insurance and payment requirements. Between 50 and 55% of SAMU patients are not subscribed to any insurance. 40% use Mutuelle de Santé while 5% use Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) insurance."
It is a major challenge for SAMU which besides caring for the patients, spends on expensive medical equipment and drugs with patients rarely paying back.
"We pay all the expenses incurred during the treatment of a patient. Those with Mutuelle de Santé are expected to only pay back 10% of the total cost but only 2 to 3% of patients payback after they recover. That leaves us with 97% of expenses unpaid for."
Dr. Dushime urged patients to always carry their medical insurance and call 912 only in emergency cases as it has been reported that some people call the toll number with no significant issue.
SAMU reported that in December 2019, 597 patients received first aid services costing up to Rwf 12.8 million. Only Rwf 180,000 has been repaid back.
Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that one ambulance provides first aid to 200,000 patients in cities and up to 300,000 patients in rural areas.