Western in Rwanda
During the week of February 20, Dr. Ted Hewitt and I traveled to Rwanda to visit the public health project that Western is working on in partnership with Fanshawe College, The University of Ottawa and York University.
The project is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. Dr. David Cechetto, from Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, is leading the project, with the support of Dr. Carroll Iwasiw from the School of Nursing in Western’s Faculty of Health Sciences. Dr. Cechetto accompanied us as we met with project participants and Rwandan officials.
Rwanda is a country whose devastation over the last decade is matched only by the strength of spirit of the people who are working to rebuild it. During the trip we had the opportunity to visit the Kigali Memorial Centre in Gisozi, as well as the Belgian Memorial. The human destruction that occurred during the Rwandan genocide of 1994 is beyond our comprehension; however, these sites allowed us to gain a better appreciation of the horror experienced.
In terms of public health, right now in Rwanda, there are approximately 200 doctors and 1,500 nurses for a population of more than 8 million. These figures amount to one doctor per 40,000 citizens. This situation is further complicated by 80 per cent of the country’s nurses lacking any formal post-secondary education and by many doctors serving as administrators rather than practicing medicine.
These statistics became real to me during the trip when we visited the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Kigali. Ted and I had the opportunity to tour the AIDS and pediatric wards of this health care facility. The professionals working to serve these fragile and vulnerable patients are extremely dedicated to their work and, despite their lack of resources and access to full training, provide excellent care.
Our visit to the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Kigali also underscored the importance of Dr. Cechetto’s work in Rwanda. He and his team are working to use their expertise and the resources they have to train and educate nursing professionals and build capacity at the Kigali Health Institute (KHI).
During our visit, we had the opportunity to tour KHI facility where Dr. Cechetto and his team are doing their work. Dr. Desiré Ndushabandi, Rector of the KHI, and several faculty members took the time to meet with us, as did Mr. Emmanuel Mudidi, Rector of the Kigali Institute for Education. Each of them impressed on us the need to build upon the work Western is doing, through faculty exchanges, visits, provision of equipment and perhaps expanding the scope of the project beyond nursing.
During our trip, we were fortunate enough to meet with many government officials, including former Health Minister Dr. Emile Rwamasirabo (now Ambassador of Rwanda to Japan), Minister of Education Professor Romain Murenzi, and Secretary of State for Higher Education, Dr. Jeanne D’Arc Mujawamariya.
The highlight of our visit was a meeting with Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame. President Kagame is a leader of great vision and hope. He expressed to us that the kind of work Western is undertaking is essential to a sustainable future for his country. He pointed out that the primary need is to restructure Rwanda’s medical school, to ensure professionals receive adequate training. Meeting with President Kagame truly underscored how Dr. Cechetto’s project is playing an important role in strengthening Rwanda’s public health care system. At the same time, the project enables us to learn a great deal about health care practices that could help people here at home - especially in the area of mental health for people who have experienced extreme violence.
It was an excellent visit and the project is a compelling example of why internationalization is so important to the future of Western and Canada.