Hands-On Medical Education in Rwanda ; Harvard Program Brings Health Care Delivery Courses to African Village

By Novak, Stephanie | International Herald Tribune, May 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Hands-On Medical Education in Rwanda ; Harvard Program Brings Health Care Delivery Courses to African Village


Novak, Stephanie, International Herald Tribune


The success of Rwanda in providing health care to its poor has drawn the attention of the international community and has inspired a new program at Harvard University.

CORRECTION APPENDED

The success of Rwanda in providing health care to its poor has drawn the attention of the international community and has inspired a new program at Harvard University.

Rwanda was one of the poorest countries in the world in 1994, after a genocide claimed more than 500,000 lives and left the country with little or no access to medical services. In 2005, it began to rebuild its infrastructure. Now, according to the Rwandan Ministry of Health, the country provides health care and insurance to more than 90 percent of its population, inspiring medical leaders from around the globe to visit the African country to study its transformation.

Now, the Harvard School of Public Health is working with the Rwandan Ministry of Health to teach a course called Global Health Delivery in the village of Rwinkwavu twice a year.

"Rwanda is honestly starting to change the face of global health," said Dr. Paul Farmer, one of the founders of Partners in Health, a nongovernmental organization that works in Rwanda and other poor countries. He is also the chairman of Harvard's Department of Global Health and Social Medicine and one of the faculty members for its course in Africa.

In February, 30 African medical leaders met with Harvard faculty at the training and research center in Rwinkwavu to discuss the challenges of delivering health services in resource-poor settings. Six of these students were trained to become faculty members who will teach future classes, with the next sessions scheduled for July.

During the weeklong course, students and professors discussed case studies and conducted field visits throughout Rwanda. Because all the students are currently health workers -- most are employees of the Rwandan Health Ministry -- they are able to immediately apply what they learned in the Harvard course to their daily work.

Initially, the course was held only on Harvard's campus, where students would discuss case studies on the difficulties of delivering medical services internationally.

But the course changed in February. A world away from Cambridge, Massachusetts, health professionals in Rwinkwavu discuss the same case studies. They also participate in live cases, in which students and faculty members interview doctors, nurses or other health workers, like the head of an organization working to deliver AIDS medications to the poor in Rwanda, to ask them about the challenges of their work. Visits to Rwandan clinics and hospitals allow students to see health care in action, and give them the opportunity to collaborate with other professionals to discuss solutions.

"To be a good global health provider, it's good for students to see what others have done," Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, who is both the Rwandan health minister and a Harvard faculty member, said by telephone.

Seeing potential for the course outside of Massachusetts, Dr. Binagwaho worked with Partners in Health to bring the Harvard curriculum to her home country.

"We hope to have students come from around the world and learn from them as well, and also have the students learning from each other, because they are all coming from countries where there are things ongoing," she said.

There is now also a new Harvard degree, a Masters in Medical Sciences and Global Health Delivery, which will begin this autumn. Plans to offer a similar degree in Rwanda are under way.

"Above all, you need people who actually do the delivery to tackle the problems," Dr. Farmer said. He stressed the importance of working not only in Africa, but also with African health care leaders. "Not everyone has the privilege to make it to Harvard -- and we needed to reach out," he added.

The Harvard course is one of the first that focuses exclusively on the challenges of delivering health care. …

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