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March 8, 2006

UWO helps rebuild Rwanda's health programs

By Kyle Gordon

A project to help educate nurses in Rwanda is being praised by the country's president, says the head of the University of Western Ontario, who has recently returned from the African nation.

Paul Davenport, UWO's president, visited Rwanda in February as part of the Western-Rwanda project developed to help rebuild the country's health program by educating nurses on HIV/AIDS, mental health and trauma.

During his three-day trip, Davenport travelled to the Kigali Health Institute where he witnessed the disproportionate number of patients to nurses and doctors in the country.

"The medical practitioners are doing an outstanding job under very, very difficult conditions. There is a severe shortage of staff so in general the families remain in the hospitals and look after the patients," he said.

Paul Davenport with Paul Kagame of Rwanda
Paul Davenport discusses the work of the UWO faculty with President Paul Kagame at his residence in Rwanda.

The ultimate goal of the project is to increase the number of nurses in Rwanda by establishing a bachelor of nursing program in Kigali.

Davenport also met with President Paul Kagame during his visit. "He urged us to continue our work and we responded that we would indeed continue," said Davenport. "We felt that we were in Rwanda for the long-run and we knew that progress was being made and we looked forward to more of it."

Davenport does not have any immediate plans to return to Rwanda. Although his visit was short, he said that he would never forget his trip.

"I met Rwandans of remarkable courage and commitment. Professors and doctors who are working under difficult conditions, conditions frankly that we could not imagine in Ontario. It was a reminder to me of how extraordinarily fortunate we are in the West and the need to reach out to those in less fortunate circumstances," Davenport said.

He also visited the National Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali where he was reminded of the 1994 massacre that claimed the lives of about 900,000 Rwandans over the course of 100 days. The museum contains historical artifacts from the massacre and video clips of people who survived.

"One clip I will never forget was of a woman who lived in Kigali. She had very good relations with her neighbour, but one night the neighbour showed up with a machete and attempted to kill her whole family. Everyone was killed except the woman. She escaped," Davenport said.

This direct testimony of the horrors of the Rwandan genocide gave Davenport a better understanding of how crucial the training of professionals is for the country's future.
UWO is one of 11 Canadian universities working to increase the education and training organizations in developing countries.

After an extensive selection process involving 64 proposals from universities across Canada, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada paired UWO with the Kigali Health Institute in Rwanda in 2001, said Angele Beaulieu, AUCC's communications manager.

Carroll Iwasiw
Photo by Kyle Gordon
Carroll Iwasiw, a UWO professor in the faculty of nursing, is enthusiastic about the work being done to educate nurses in Rwanda.
One of the primary focuses of the Western-Rwanda project is to help faculty at the KHI learn about current nursing concepts, how to develop curriculum and current methods of teaching, said Carroll Iwasiw, a professor in the school of nursing and a member of the Western-Rwanda project.

"The Rwandans are really dedicated to improving the health care of people in their country. The ultimate outcome is that more educated nurses will contribute to that goal," she said.

Rwanda has only 1,500 nurses for a population of eight million. Most of these nurses received their preparation as part of their high-school curriculum. In Canada, there are about 40 to 60 nurses to every 10,000 people, Iwasiw said. "A huge part of this program is to help elevate the education level of nurses."

Iwasiw has been working with Dr. David Cechetto, at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at UWO, since they first received funding from CIDA in 2004.

In June 2005, Iwasiw visited Rwanda for a second time. This trip was to plan in more detail the projects to be achieved over the course of the six-year program.

One of the projects involves bringing three Rwandan nurses to Canada to learn about nursing in a more developed country. "The Rwandans will see how we conduct nursing education, what our classes are like and what clinical experiences are like for our students," she said.

The Rwandan nurses are expected to arrive in Canada in the next week. "We are hoping for a series of visits so all or most of the KHI nursing faculty can come to Canada," Iwasiw said.