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Duke Medicine to train Rwandan doctors

The Duke School of Medicine and School of Nursing will soon join a consortium of American universities in structuring a viable health system in Rwanda.

The Rwanda Human Resources for Health Program will last for seven years. Addressing the low numbers of medical professionals in the poverty-stricken African nation, Duke medical experts ranging from nurses to general practitioners will help train health care professionals there. The goal is to train enough Rwandan doctors and nurses to create a sustainable Rwandan health system.

“President Paul Kagame wants to make Rwanda the new African Singapore,” Dr. Nathan Thielman, associate professor of medicine, said in an interview.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, an advocate of health-based initiatives, formally announced the launch of the program in July.

Rwanda has made major strides since 1994 to rebuild and reunite a country ravaged by genocide, Thielman said. In the health sector, it has established a strong community-based insurance system to which around 90 percent of the population has now subscribed, and Rwanda is promoting innovative incentives for improving quality of care with performance-based financing schemes.

“[Rwanda’s] health gains in the last decade are among the most dramatic the world has seen in the last 50 years,” Dr. Peter Drobac, director of the Rwandan branch of Partners in Health, told the New York Times in July.

One of the most important remaining challenges in the Rwandan health sector is strengthening the medical education system. Medical personnel at Duke and several other leading institutions across the country are excited to join their counterparts from the National University of Rwanda to help improve the quality of medical education, Thielman wrote in an e-mail Monday.

The work will be done in hospitals and treatment centers located throughout the country. Most Duke faculty will be based in the capital city, Kigali.

“This is the way to teach the next generation,” Thielman said. “Our goal is the same as the Ministry of Health, Rwandan health care providers and educators.”

While on the ground, special medical teams from Duke will have the opportunity to augment their medical education, particularly in clinical endeavors, said Dr. Maria Small, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

This program has drawn participants from several departments. At least five faculty members specializing in pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology, as well as six officials from the School of Nursing are engaged in this program, Thielman said.

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