President Paul Kagame was Friday joined by several members of the academia from world’s renowned universities to launch the University of Global Health Equity’s (UGHE) new campus in Burera District.
The state-of-the-art campus, based in the Northern Province, is the first residential facility that will permanently host students who were previously hosted at Kigali Heights.
Kagame said the facility reflects commitment of Partners in Health and their counterparts in Rwanda.
“This new, cutting-edge university represents an additional investment in the human capital of Rwanda and our region,” he said.
The Head of State officiated at the inauguration of UGHE Butaro campus shortly after touching down from Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting.
What was being launched, he said, has consistently been a topic at Davos.
“I kept telling people in Davos, we have been talking about inequities that exist in the world and what I was going to attend is a solution to inequities, it is important that we walk the talk,” he said, referring to the university and the work that it is doing.
The development of the campus was financed by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Cummings Foundation, but at the centre of its development is Paul Farmer, the Co-Founder of Partners in Health.
Kagame commended Paul Farmers’ progressive efforts and the organisation’s work towards facilitating the country and the region to achieve equity in health.
“Paul Farmer and the Partners in Health team, together with Rwandan partners, have once again demonstrated, that they follow through on their commitments, and get things done. Your efforts are raising the standard, globally, on equity in healthcare,” he said.
Partners in Health (PIH), known in Rwanda as Inshuti mu Buzima is a non-profit organisation, which has, for many years, been working to facilitate the country to achieve its health targets.
It currently works with several institutions to provide high-quality medical care in three hospitals, including Butaro Cancer Centre of Excellence—located right next to the campus.
“Just as important, is our collaboration on scientific research to measure the impact of health interventions, and continually improve the care that our citizens receive,” Kagame noted.
He also indicated that the name of the school, the University of Global Health Equity, says something critical about its mission.
“It is not just about producing highly-skilled medical professionals, though that is of course the foundation. It is also about, first, teaching students to put the human factor at the centre of care. Hospitals don’t treat diseases, they treat individual people, each in his or her social and cultural context,” he said.
Kagame added that it is also about emphasising the importance of investing and strengthening national health systems, highlighting that it was equally important instilling these principles as they are essential for reducing the disparities in health outcomes.
The Frw 8 billion campus is expected to raise the country’s ability to produce the next generation of medical professionals.
According to Paul Farmer, the University marks the commencement of a chance to elevate training and research to its rightful place in the fight against poverty and human suffering caused by diseases.
Farmer, a Harvard University medical professor, said it took centuries for Harvard to transform from a tiny college into one of the world’s largest research centres since it could not embrace equity.
However, he said, things can change quickly with equity and that the University of Global Health Equity will not wait for centuries to get it right.
“If Rwanda can turn around and leave hell behind in less than two decades, then it should not surprise anyone that this university, the child of a Rwanda reborn, will cover centuries in a matter of a few years,” he noted.
University officials indicated that setting up a campus in rural Rwanda was not an accident.
Instead, they did it to make students understand what it is like to deliver healthcare in rural settings.
Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said that the next generation of doctors and nurses cannot just focus on diagnosing and treating symptoms.
“They must understand the systems that drive social determinants of health, have skills to strategically take initiative, and find solutions to barriers to service delivery,” she noted.
“In other words, if an HIV patient has to travel 20km to a hospital without reliable and affordable transport to get his or her medicine, it can’t be enough to insist that patient takes the pills on time. That’s why we aim to turn health professionals into leaders and managers who have the skills to address injustice.”
UGHE is a wholly owned subsidiary of Partners in Health (PIH). The University began as a response to the health inequities that exist in global health, particularly on the African continent. Early 2014, UGHE received US$ 30 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Cummings Foundation, and a commitment of over US$ 50 million from the Government of Rwanda in public infrastructure to build the school and sustain its students.
Since 2015, UGHE runs a Masters of Science in Global Health Delivery (MGHD) at its Kigali city campus (21-month programme). A full-time one-year MGHD focused on leadership and management training was launched in September.
UGHE – Butaro Campus is comprised of six buildings that include apartments for up to 200 students and staff, and an academic building. The campus counts 24 full-time students representing 12 countries; Rwanda, USA, Canada, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nepal, Lesotho, Tanzania, and Uganda. The school also has 22 part-time students at its Kigali Campus.
To date, 40 students including 35 Rwandans have graduated from UGHE.