Grant eyes Rwandan health care

Building on a decade-long relationship, Western University researchers and their partners in Rwanda are looking to construct a better health-care system for some of the most vulnerable in the central African nation.

Led by Western professor David Cechetto, the project hopes to bridge recently identified gaps in maternal, newborn and child health in Rwanda. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has committed $1.8 million, and Western has contributed another $800,000 in-kind, to the project.

For the last decade, Western has worked in the health sector in Rwanda in partnership with the Kigali Health Institute, the Faculty of Medicine at the National University of Rwanda and the ministries of Health and Education on health professional education. Recently, a Global Fund-funded assessment of health-care quality identified serious gaps in the ability of health professionals to treat many conditions in those areas. For example, health professionals are not prepared to manage complicated pregnancy/delivery presentations or newborn resuscitation due to a serious lack of midwives.

“As long as everything was routine,” Cechetto said, “they were quite comfortable. But in cases of emergency, there was a need for additional training.”

Subsequently, the Rwandan partners asked the Canadian team to collaborate with them in capacity building activities to address these gaps. The requests were for three objectives: strengthen midwifery and pediatric nursing programs; develop continuing professional education programs; and policy development.

Enter Western. Cechetto is heading a nine-person team, with hopes of adding more as the project progresses and requires more capacity. Researchers from York University and the University of British Columbia are also involved.

“(Dr. Cechetto’s) track record in rebuilding health education in Rwanda is unmatched in our university. And the new grant will facilitate a similarly useful and important program,” said Western professor Joanna Quinn, The Africa Institute director. “Dr. Cechetto’s strong successes in Rwanda exemplify Western’s commitment to Africa and Africa-based research, and speak to the excellence in research being undertaken by all of the more than 200 faculty and graduate students affiliated with The Africa Institute.”

In addition to his affiliation with The Africa Institute, Cechetto is a member of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology and Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

Despite the efforts on this side of the ocean, Cechetto credits the Rwandans for their progressive outlook.

“Rwanda has set the bar for developing countries when it comes to these types of partnerships,” said the Africa Institute researcher.

In his 12 years of traveling to the country, Cechetto has seen the change in the post-genocide era. He applauds a government with no tolerance for corruption, and a desire to partner with outsiders to help create change quickly. He notes rapid improvements in infrastructure and health.

But there is still much work to be done.

With a median age of 18.7 years, Rwanda suffers from an infant mortality rate (64.04 deaths per 1,000 live births) that puts it 25th highest in the world.  At 58.02 years, it’s life-expectancy rate ranks 192nd.

For comparison, with a median age of 41, Canada has an infant mortality rate (4.92 deaths per 1,000 live births) that puts it 183rd in the world.  At 81.38 years, our life-expectancy rate ranks 12th.

“There’s been a considerable amount of progress,” Cechetto said. “Yes, it is still a developing country. So the numbers still don’t look good. But there is progress.”