In a bid to promote a healthy lifestyle for the Rwandan population, in 2016, the City of Kigali, together with Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), partnered to promote Car-Free Day.
The initiative was launched to encourage mass sports and promote early detection and prevention through non-communicable diseases (NCDs) screening campaigns.
Since its inception, Car-Free Day has extended to four sites with the aim of increasing access to residents.
Early last year, Car-Free Day was extended to three more sites. In all sites, participation was up to 20,000, with NCDs regularly tested.
Participation increased to 40,000 in all sites every month (with an average of 5,000 people per site at one time).
UNDERSTANDING CAR-FREE DAY
Kigali Car-Free Day is a bi-monthly event that includes mass sports activities and health check-ups.
The initiative was introduced by the City of Kigali with the aim of promoting the culture of sports and active lifestyle among Kigali residents, to prevent non-communicable diseases and other illnesses due to a sedentary way of life.
It’s also a way of promoting ‘green transport’ with the vision of making Kigali a green city.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, accounting for six percent of deaths globally.
Reports estimate that physical inactivity was responsible for six percent of the incidence of coronary heart disease, seven per cent of type 2 diabetes, 10 per cent of breast cancer, and 10 per cent of colon cancer.
Rwanda non-communicable diseases risk factor survey conducted in 2013 revealed that the prevalence of hypertension is at 15 per cent, diabetes at 3 per cent and 2.8 per cent are obese, while 14.3 per cent are overweight.
Meanwhile, 12.8 per cent were declared smokers, and 55.3 per cent were reported to drink alcohol.
Jean Claude Ruzindana, Director of Social Development, City of Kigali, says since the start of Car-Free Day, NCDs have been regularly tested, with an average of 2,200 people tested every month.
Awareness messages on NCDs prevention have been conveyed to participants as well.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT?
Ruzindana says a good number of Kigali residents have made sports part of their culture, which has a positive impact on their health and wellness.
Socialisation is also part of the positive impact Car-Free Day has brought since its commencement, adding that here, people are able to meet and share great moments with others.
He adds that the initiative has as well helped people discover their health status in terms of non-communicable diseases (blood pressure, sugar level in blood, overweight or obesity) among others.
This, Ruzindana notes, has helped, especially when it comes to people taking appropriate action including seeking medical care, adopting an active lifestyle, adopting a habit of regular medical check-ups and so forth.
To a certain extent, Ruzindana says there has been a reduction of air pollution caused by motor vehicle traffic.
According to Edison Rwagasore, Senior Officer — Diabetes, Chronic Diseases and Other Metabolic Diseases at RBC, Car-Free Day has promoted physical activity and green environment in Kigali city by reducing air pollution.
He adds that it has as well provided a platform to raise awareness on early detection and prevention of NCDs risk factors.
Alphonse Mbarushimana, the executive secretary of Rwanda NCD Alliance and project manager of the Car-Free Day initiative, says the initiative has also been there to educate the citizens of Kigali on not only prevention, but also how to control the non-communicable diseases, if one happens to be having one of them.
Also, he says Car-Free Day has helped uplift the image of the City of Kigali as a vibrant city.
WHAT ARE THE NUMBERS?
According to data from Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), in the last Fiscal Year (FY), 6,134 people have been tested on NCDs.
70 per cent of the people tested were males and 30 per cent were females.
For obesity, out of the 6,134 people tested, 11 per cent have an obesity issue, 26 per cent are overweight while 19 per cent were underweight.
Among people suffering obesity and overweight, females represented 53 per cent.
Considering age, people above the age of 40 represent 55 per cent of all people who are overweight.
The data on blood pressure shows that one per cent had a serious problem of blood pressure and were referred to hospitals.
10 per cent had a problem of blood pressure level 2 (advised to seek medical care), whereas, 29 per cent had an issue of blood pressure (also advised to seek medical assistance).
Rwagasore says the above results show that women are more vulnerable to blood pressure than their male counterparts.
Mbarushimana says the participation of people, especially in rural areas, is still low.
Evaluating the impact assessment of Car-Free Day, impact on the medical screening and counselling of the patients are also some of the challenges when it comes to Car-Free Day CFD.
He cites plastic use of drinking water and public institutions not fully mobilised for Car-Free Day as some of the setbacks that hinder the initiative.
Meanwhile, Mbarushimana adds that business involvement in resource provision is still very low.
ACHIEVEMENTS & FUTURE PLANS
In the last three years, the Car-Free Day initiative has had numerous achievements, accounting for some of the greatest achievements overall in Rwanda during this period.
For instance, Rwanda, through the Ministry of Health, received an award for the coordination mechanism aiming at prevention and control of NCDs from the United Nations Task Force.
The City of Kigali was named Public Health Laureate for 2019 Wellbeing City Award, thanks to the bi-monthly Car-Free Day.
There has been an expansion of car free day activities to cell levels in all districts of the City of Kigali, and initiation of Car-Free Day in sub-cities of Rwanda including Musanze, Rubavu, Nyagatare, Muhanga, and Huye, among other districts.
Aside from that, those who identified to have abnormal results in the NCDs screening were connected to the healthcare facilities for continued support.
Regarding future plans, Ruzindana says their strategy is to continue expanding the Car-Free Day up to grassroots levels (umurenge [sector] and akagari [cell]), and organise the mass sports on other Sundays (than the 1st and 3rd) in cells and sectors.
Also, introducing more attractive activities to increase the participation of Car-Free Day is in the works.