Bringing Health Equity to Rwanda

September 15, 2016 Brigham and Women's Hospital

bwh-rwanda-blog

Physicians and other health care providers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are helping to build sustainable health care services in Rwanda.

Traumatized by years of civil war and a devastating act of genocide in the 1990s, Rwanda used to be a place where hope was in short supply.

Over time, however, the country came back stronger than ever—investing in education, infrastructure and regional trade—and Rwanda’s economy enjoyed one of the largest growth rates in the world last year. Still, one critical resource remained scarce: health care.

In 2010, the World Health Organization reported that Rwanda had one of the lowest rates of physicians per capita in the world. A country of nearly 11 million people, Rwanda was home to about 600 physicians at that time. Most were concentrated in large cities like Kigali, leaving rural areas underserved, especially in terms of specialists.

Now that picture is changing, thanks in large part to the Human Resources for Health Program, a collaborative, seven-year project with Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School, the Rwandan Ministry of Health, and more than 20 other academic institutions in the United States.

Currently in its fifth year, the program sends physicians and faculty from multiple specialties to Rwanda to train the country’s next generation of clinicians, researchers and medical instructors. BWH is the lead institution for clinical faculty for all Harvard affiliates from the Boston area, and it has recruited and deployed more than 50 specialists and sub-specialists over the last four years. To date, more than 340 clinicians have participated in the program.

“This partnership was forged by something very powerful: shared convictions about health equity,” said Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, chief of the BWH Division of Global Health Equity and co-founder of the nonprofit Partners In Health. The Human Resources for Health Program was the result of partnerships that Farmer helped establish in Rwanda.

When the program concludes in two years, its organizers hope to see significant increases in the total number of care providers in Rwanda and bring more specialists to rural areas. By 2018, the number of physicians is expected to reach 1,182—nearly double the physician census in 2011. Organizers expect to see the number of nurses grow by about 34 percent, with the goal of reaching 11,384 nurses by 2018.

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