Construction Begins on University in Rwanda

Photo by Zacharias Abubeker for UGHE Dr. Peter Drobac (right), the executive director of University of Global Health Equity, shares architectural renderings of the campus with representatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Inshuti Mu Buzima, and MASS Design Group.

Photo by Zacharias Abubeker for UGHE
Dr. Peter Drobac (right), the executive director of University of Global Health Equity, shares architectural renderings of the campus with representatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Inshuti Mu Buzima, and MASS Design Group.

Earlier this month, Partners In Health began construction on a 250-acre campus for the University of Global Health Equity. When complete in 2018, classrooms, administrative buildings, a library, and dorms will drape a picturesque hill in the Burera District of northern Rwanda. The structures, the first of two UGHE campuses planned in the region, will house thousands of students and medical professionals from around the world, teaching them not just how to treat patients, but how to build health care systems.

“Try as we might, PIH can only touch a tiny fraction of the world’s population,” says Director of University Operations Jarrett Collins. “The university is a way to reach infinitely more people.” 

The need is clear, especially in Africa. Despite consistent improvements in health care over the last decade, far too many children still die of easily preventable ailments such as malaria. Mothers struggle to find trained professionals to attend their births. HIV and tuberculosis afflict thousands who can’t get treatments. The average life expectancy in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa remains a mere 58 years.

UGHE began confronting these disparities last September. In borrowed classrooms, Collins and others launched the university's cornerstone program: a two-year, part-time Master of Science in Global Health Delivery, the study of how to create excellent national health care in developing countries. Lecturers from Rwanda's Ministry of Health, Harvard Medical School, Tufts University, and elsewhere taught students, mostly from Rwanda, everything from epidemiology to budget management.

This year, a throng of applicants have already applied for the second class, starting in September. Nearly 250 professionals from as far away as Mexico have applied for 27 spots. Degrees in other subjects, including nursing, are soon to follow.

“As a regional hub for research and innovation, the Burera District campus will not only give students the tools, but the space, to investigate complex health care delivery challenges,” says Project Director Rogers Muragije.

The location 80 miles north of the capital of Kigali is no accident. Being in the safe, stable, ever-healthier nation of Rwanda serves as a constant reminder of what’s possible. (In the last six years, for example, the number of women dying from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth has decreased by half, to roughly 1 in every 475 births.) And sitting across a valley from Butaro Hospital, a 150-bed facility built by PIH and operated by the Government of Rwanda, offers students the chance to gain practical, first-hand experience.

Boston-based architecture firm Shepley Bulfinch designed the campus to be on par with the best. Solar panels on the roofs will provide electricity. Windows and hot-air “chimneys” will allow a light breeze to blow through, connecting the indoors with the outdoors and reducing the need for air-conditioning. In classrooms, desks, chairs, and tall whiteboards will easily move to suit lectures or discussions, team brainstorms or individual work. Boston-based MASS Design Group is in Rwanda overseeing the construction and using local materials, craftsmen, and laborers.

“A year ago, UGHE was an ambitious idea,” says Executive Director Dr. Peter Drobac. “In 10 years, it will yield some of the world’s leading minds in global health delivery.”

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