Fulfilling a Fulbright in Rwanda

Yogesh Shah, M.D., DMU’s associate dean of global health, last year received a Fulbright Specialists Award that sent him this spring to Kigali Health Institute (KHI) in Rwanda. He is working with KHI to establish a center of excellence in palliative care training in Rwanda and neighboring African countries. The Fulbright Specialists Program, created in 2000 to complement the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program, provides short-term academic opportunities to prominent U.S. faculty and professionals to support curricular and faculty development and institutional planning at institutions around the world. Below Dr. Shah shares his observations from his first week in Rwanda.

DMU's Dr. Yogesh Shah, third from the left, with KHI staff on the day of his arrival in Kigali
DMU’s Dr. Yogesh Shah, third from the left, with KHI staff on the day of his arrival in Kigali

After one year of planning and preparation, I am doing what the Fulbright Specialists Award is sponsoring me to do – to work at Kigali Health Institute (KHI) in Kigali, Rwanda, about 8,000 miles or roughly 13,000 kilometers from Des Moines University.

One week is short to know a new country, but I feel I have achieved and learned a lot. I have finished an initial draft of a review of palliative care (PC) educational needs for KHI, and I am planning to meet some members in charge of PC in Rwanda’s Ministry of Health.

I have also visited Kibagabaga Hospital, which is one of the first Rwandan hospitals to offer PC to pediatric patients. It was exciting and sad at the same time. Like many hospitals in Rwanda, this is a very resource-poor hospital. Many beds were shared by more than one person, in an open unit with between six and eight beds. Like most of the country, the hospital is short-staffed, but it still has a team of health care providers dedicated to PC, which many U.S. hospitals don’t have yet. It was heart-breaking to meet a 48-year-old patient with terminal diagnostics of lung cancer with metastasis who was admitted to the PC unit.

In the palliative care unit at Kibagabaga Hospital, Kigali
In the palliative care unit at Kibagabaga Hospital, Kigali

Again, one week is a very short time to know any new place. But my initial impressions are that Rwanda and its capital city Kigali are young but beautiful and very clean. During my morning runs on the hilly streets of the city, there not a single piece of paper or cigarette butt. That’s why it is known as “Singapore of Africa.”

Rwanda has been independent since July 1, 1962, but the country has suffered many ethnic troubles, which led to the genocide of 1994 with hundreds of thousands of victims and many other socio-economic losses. The post-genocide work has been spectacular! A Reconciliation Commission and Participative Jurisdictions (GACACA) have been instituted, and different sectors have been developed in areas such as tourism and industry entrepreneurship.

I feel very excited about my work on developing PC education at the pre-service level and to integrate that with the Ministry of Health’s effort for national palliative care provision. I am very thankful to DMU, the Fulbright Specialists Program and KHI for giving me this opportunity and support.

Dr. Shah's first haircut in Kigali (lucky him - he was his stylist's first non-Rwandan customer)
Dr. Shah’s first haircut in Kigali (lucky him – he was his stylist’s first non-Rwandan customer)
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