It was pomp and fanfare as the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) celebrated the commencement of the eighth cohort of its Master of Science in Global Health Delivery (MGHD) in a colourful ceremony held at Kigali Convention Centre (KCC) on Sunday, August 6..
The 46 graduates, clad in their black and red gowns, smiled from ear to ear as they marched behind their respective country flags, as their parents, guardians, faculty, siblings and friends joyously looked on.
This particular class has its own uniqueness because the 46 graduands hail from 13 countries, affirming the global nature of the education institution which is perched atop the hills of Burera district in Northern Province.
Drums and dance roared through the hall, setting a celebratory mood as the young and aspiring leaders had their degrees conferred upon them in the presence of senior officials and academics.
After a year worth of hard work, accomplishments and milestones, the students smiled onto the stage, one by one, to receive their well-earned transcripts amidst ululations and jubilations from those in attendance.
Countries represented in our graduating cohort included Burundi, Canada, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Syria, Uganda, United States of America (USA), and Zimbabwe.
Each one of them graduated under one of three different options – One Health, Health Management, or Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health, courses many described as some of the most relevant in the context of today’s world.
The Guest of Honour, the Minister of Health, Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana, congratulated the graduates and said that they come at the right time, offering expertise in areas the world is focussed on today.
He did not hesitate to say that the doors were open for them at the Ministry he leads, for them to come and add their brick to the health sector Rwanda is building today.
Dr. Nsanzimana used the opportunity to highlight the persistent inequities in global health systems, citing the shortage of doctors, nurses, and midwives in resource-limited countries, including Rwanda, as one glaring example.
He pointed out that the Government of Rwanda was working around the clock to address the challenges the health sector is faced with, including the shortage of manpower.
“We are aiming to work to quadruple our current healthcare workforce in a four-year period,” Dr. Nsanzimana said, adding that the graduates will be a great addition, urging them to work selflessly in their respective fields.
“We have no doubt that this program that you just completed today provided you with necessary skills. But beyond papers, what comes from your heart, the person you meet and what you do for that person is more important,” he pointed out.
He pointed out that working in the care sector comes with commitment, responsibility and sacrifice, with one mission of impacting lives.
“Our healthcare system needs you. Rwanda needs you. We need more innovations, maybe the next new vaccine or the next digital program that is going to change the lives of people will come from you. Believe that you are the one; it doesn’t have to come from very far,” Minister Nsanzimana urged the graduands.
In his parting shot, the senior official passed invaluable pieces of advice for the graduates, encouraging them to pursue success in whatever they do, challenge themselves to do hard things and to avoid shortcuts in life.
Beyond service to the country, as he always does whenever he is addressing a youthful audience, he urged them to take care of their personal lives, shunning habits that have impact on health but also focus on doing things that impact the lives of citizens.
Prof. Abebe Bekele, Dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, UGHE, congratulated the graduating students and urged them to go and be the difference and change the world wants to see.
“As emerging diseases continue to threaten the lives of the most vulnerable, the role of our students as future agents of global health transformation is more important than ever,” Prof. Bekele said.
“Our students graduate with the resolute commitment and competence to provide an equitable voice for the historically unvoiced and underserved, as well as the educational tools necessary to fulfill this challenging, yet crucial role in the development and innovation of global health systems,” he added.
The University was established by the late Dr. Paul Farmer and his friends through his initiative, Partners In Health, with the aim of changing the way healthcare is delivered across the globe by training the next generation of healthcare workers to deliver equitable, quality care for all, with a focus on the most vulnerable.
Beyond providing students with the clinical expertise required to provide quality preventative and curative care through the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) program, UGHE equips students with the leadership and managerial skills to steer healthcare systems towards equitable healthcare delivery.
The MGHD is UGHE’s key flagship program that focuses on turning healthcare experts into global health leaders.
During their period of study, MGHD students gained an interdisciplinary, biosocial approach to addressing transnational health issues beyond the patient bedside.
Under the guidance of faculty members and renowned experts in the field, the graduates said they gained valuable insights and practical experience through coursework, field placements, and real-world case studies, even though in their own words, it wasn’t easy.
Speaking on behalf of MGHD’23 Graduate in Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health students, Peace Iraguha Ndoli.
said that the course they undertook is one not even their parents understood but for them their mission is to challenge harmful norms and advocate for inclusive policies in society.
“How I wish Dr. Paul Farmer was here today to see these 46 flowers from his garden,” she said in reference to the founder who passed on earlier this year in February.
“Let our collective commitment to showing up be the catalyst for positive change and a testament to our dedication to creating a more inclusive and equitable society,” she said, calling on her compatriots to stay forth into their chosen path, guided by humility and the genuine desire to understand the communities they serve.
“May we consciously choose not to be blinded by the privileges we possess. Above all, I wish for each of you to embrace love -love for yourselves, so that we may extend love to others more, fully,” Iraguha, the founder of Lifesten Health, one of Rwanda’s most promising startups.
Anthony C. Kwarbo, a Liberian national, who completed the MGHD in Health Management, who was among the international students in the program, said that his stay and study in Rwanda opened his eyes to the challenges the world faces today and as they leave UGHE, their resolve to address them is as solid as ever.
“With a heart full of joy, I stand here today grateful to highlight and share experiences and memories created by everyone of us throughout the MGMA program. To look back at all the obstacles we have overcome to reach this moment in time,”
“Today we leave the walls of UGHE, but I want us to go out ready to make the world a better place than we found it. UGHE Lions, go out and roar as agents of social justice and bring pride to this den,” Kwarbo said, in reference to the lion’s moniker given to the class.
Kwarbo highlighted the interconnectedness of the program and the potential to transcend national boundaries it has, emphasizing that whether it is his country or any other country, today the health challenges remain the same.
He said that the completion of the course reminds them of the challenge they have and brings them to the next step, which is applying the knowledge they acquired in their respective communities to leverage global health delivery.
Kwarbo said that when everybody waits for anybody to do something, nobody will actually do it but if somebody, the graduands in this case, get intentional in becoming that somebody the society needs, there will be a difference.
The Liberian health practitioner thanked the founders of the UGHE and the Government of Rwanda for their efforts to establish the university which he said continues to impact global health.
He could not conclude without commending Rwanda as a host country, pointing out that the hospitality and support they received made them feel at home.
Over the period of the course, the students engaged in collaborative projects with local communities, international organizations, and governmental bodies, demonstrating their commitment to making a tangible impact on global health outcomes.
Through the intensive research practicum, students gained hands-on experience in research design, implementation, management, analysis, and results dissemination.
As Dr. Joel M. Mubiligi, UGHE Ag-Vice Chancellor, put it, the different tracks offered them a more in-depth look at core health challenges and targeted solutions.
“As our Graduating MGHD class of 2023 prepare to embark on careers of impact in healthcare, we are proud and celebrate their achievement. They are now part of a global community of healthcare leaders committed to providing quality care for all,”
“The knowledge and skills they gained at UGHE will guide them to serve others with passion, and humility, and impact the wellbeing of populations for generations to come,” Dr. Mubiligi said.
According to officials, the MGHD program is central to UGHE’s mission and vision of reimagining healthcare delivery.
This innovative program has enabled 182 alumni to work in various roles supporting ministries of health as advisors, managing NGO projects, and consulting for multilateral institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
UGHE is looking up to the 8th cohort to join the global health field to deploy the skills and knowledge they earned through the innovative approaches to health education which have earned UGHE global recognition.
In June this year, UGHE was ranked 8th in the Sub-Saharan Africa University Rankings by Times Higher Education and 2nd in impact, out of 117 universities from across the continent which were assessed. Out of those, only 88 were ranked.
The Butaro-based university has also been recognised by the ASPIRE-to-Excellence Award in health professions education from the Association of Medical Education of Europe.
As Dr. Joia Mukherjee, Chief Medical Officer at Partners In Health said, for a young university established just recently in 2015, to achieve such milestones and continue to grow by leaps and bounds, one cannot emphasize enough the importance it is playing in shaping the future of healthcare.
She pointed out that UGHE is a brainchild of the work Partners In Health has been doing with the Government of Rwanda over the past 20 years, to build a transformative platform for equity in healthcare and the collaboration is one of the “purest in the world”, in her own words.
Among other things, she said the university weathered a lot of storms over the years, right from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic to the untimely loss of Dr. Paul Farmer, among other challenges.
“You have stewarded us through these storms today. The sun shines on you, and all of our students,” she told the UGHE faculty and everyone else who played a role.
“Thank you to the families and friends who stick behind these brilliant young people,” she said, adding that the graduation called for celebration.
As they left the hall, full of smiles and joy, Dr. Mukherjee reminded the graduates that Rwanda and the African continent are looking up to them to go and “tell the story and change the narrative” with what they will be doing in the healthcare systems of their respective countries.