Health Systems that Save Lives & Give Dignity to Mothers

— Words by Emmanuel Kamanzi, Director of Infrastructure, UGHE —

As we celebrate Mother’s Day today, it’s humbling and sensational to have witnessed a great milestone achieved this month within the One-PIH Family; breaking the ground of the state-of-the-art Maternal Center of Excellence in the most rural part of Sierra Leone, Kono District. This 166-bed teaching hospital will be dedicated to the health of women and children.

While a lot more remains to be done in my cherished home country, Rwanda, fond memories of the same work come to mind spanning from 2005 when Partners In Health and the Government of Rwanda collaborated to renovate and build similar state-of-the-art health facilities, equipping and training health workers in rural Rwinkwavu, Rukira, Kirehe and Burera, districts now emerging as medical cities focused on health care delivery, training and research.

UGHE’s home in Burera District is also the location of Butaro District Hospital, established as a collaboration between PIH/IMB and the Government of Rwanda in 2011 to serve a population of nearly 350,000 and establish a model rural hospital in East Africa delivering high-quality medical care, alongside training and research initiatives. Image credit: Mass Design Group.

I have further memories of innovative programs like the total district strategy. This was aimed at supporting and strengthening care at all levels from the community up to the district hospital and central referral hospital, and aligned with the Central Ministry of Health’s vision of building a strong and decentralized health system. These efforts among others have allowed Rwanda to “achieve some of the steepest declines in premature mortality ever documented anywhere”. It has taken Rwanda through the darkest post Genocide era to a country that all Rwandans, investors, tourists feel as a safe and healthy country. This gives me renewed optimism that soon we will be seeing places like Butaro become likes of the Boston Longwood Medical Area.

To improve care at all levels of health care, PIH in collaboration with the Government of Rwanda adopted an innovative program “The total district strategy” that aimed at upgrading all health centers in Southern Kayonza, Kirehe and Burera Districts. The maternity ward at Nyamirama in Rwanda’s Eastern Province was one of the upgraded facilities providing dignified space for mothers. Image courtesy of Emmanuel Kamanzi, UGHE.

As our UGHE Co-Founder Dr. Paul Farmer has previously said, “with rare exceptions, all of your most important achievements on this planet will come from working with others—or, in a word, partnership.” It will not be a surprise to see Sierra Leone in the next few years meeting where Rwanda is today in this unfinished business of building equitable national health systems that improve health of the people, transform communities and grow country economies while giving the dignity and justice our mothers deserve.

Happy Mother’s Day!