By India Ogazi
Nine years ago, in 2004, we watched Hotel Rwanda with dropped jaws and bleak hearts, as the film chronicled the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands in the east African country. Don Cheadle was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor and the film went on to be highly acclaimed in the film industry.
But for Rwandans this was more than just a movie. It was their reality. While movie goers marveled at their story, Rwandans were picking up the broken pieces from a brutal civil war that ravaged their country.
Almost 20 years later, Rwandans are still rebuilding their country’s economy and with it their medical workforce.
Although improvements have been made in Rwandans’ health outcomes for infectious diseases like malaria and child mortality, issues like maternal and child illness are still too high.
More doctors are needed to help combat the country’s health disparities.
“Many doctors left Rwanda during the war for safety and economic reasons,” said Dr. Matthew Dacso, assistant professor of internal medicine and director of the Center for Global Health Education at UTMB
. For a country of more than 11 million, there are only 625 practicing physicians in Rwanda and only 150 specialists in priority clinical areas.
To rebuild Rwanda’s medical workforce, in August 2012 former U.S. Ambassador and Global AIDS Coordinator, Dr. Eric Goosby, in coordination with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, launched the Rwanda Human Resources for Health Program. The 7-year, $150 million program is a collaboration among top U.S. schools of medicine, nursing, health management and dentistry to bring medical faculty to Rwanda to teach medical students.
The majority of Rwandan doctors are general practitioners and have not completed a formal post-graduate training program to become specialists. The country has one school of medicine, which opened in 1963, but only began offering in-country training in post-graduate studies for specialists in 2005.
The undergraduate medical student body has increased over the last several years; however, there aren’t enough post-graduate professors to train doctors to become specialists.
This is where UTMB can help. “We are very proud to be a part of the consortium of 14 schools of medicine, which include Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Duke, that will help recruit specialists who can teach,” said Dacso, who is head of the recruitment efforts at UTMB.
“This is an opportunity for a doctor to take what he or she knows and make an impact in the lives of others — to pay it forward.”
The New England Journal of Medicine
released a special report on the program on Nov. 21, crediting the program as a model for other impoverished countries.
The Human Resources for Health Program will begin in July 2014 and is looking for board certified doctors of internal medicine,pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology, pathology, oncology and psychiatry who can commit one year to teaching.
UTMB was invited to join this consortium through relationships forged at the National University of Rwanda by Dr. Richard Goodgame, Dr. Clinton White, Dr. Peter Keiser, Dr. Peter Melby and Mr. Jonathan Mwiindi. Without them laying the groundwork and without Dr. Steve Lieberman's support in the Dean's Office, UTMB's involvement in the project never would have come to fruition.
By the program’s completion in 2018, Rwanda’s specialist physician capacity will have more than tripled. An additional 550 physicians, 2,800 nurses and midwives, 300 oral health professionals and 150 health managers will have been newly trained in Rwanda — all of whom will have signed contracts to work in the country for a certain number of years based on the degree they obtain. Thereafter, Rwanda plans to operate the residency and training programs with its own teachers and clinicians.