Rwanda Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Heart of Africa’s New Medical School

Rwanda – a small landlocked country in the heart of Africa – boasts a primary health-care system that provides near-universal access. And now it is building a medical school that will benefit its own people and many others in Africa and worldwide.

SAN FRANCISCO – Rwanda has achieved some of the most dramatic gains in health and poverty-reduction in the world. This small, landlocked African country (the size of Massachusetts, but with twice the population) has developed a primary health-care system with near-universal access to clinical care and insurance. Rwanda has reduced both economic and health-care inequality, and demonstrates how “health equity” helps to build strong societies.

The secret to Rwanda’s success is that its leaders are building “modern institutions on traditional values.” They built a system of community justice, called Gacaca, which integrated their need for nationwide reconciliation with an ancient tradition of clemency. They breathed life back into a civic tradition of Umuganda, where one day a month, citizens, including the president, gather together to weed their fields, clean their streets, and build homes for the poorest among them.

In 2015, the government of Rwanda and the Boston-based Partners In Health (PIH), with the help of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Cummings Foundation, established the private, not-for-profit University of Global Health Equity (UGHE). The university is founded on the principle that every member of a community deserves the same care and opportunity, and focuses on the delivery of quality health care to those who need it most. Agnes Binagwaho, a co-founder of UGHE who is a former minister of health and an adjunct professor at Harvard Medical School, once said to me, “Why would I want to raise my children in a nation where all children don’t get the same medical care as they do?”

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