UGHE Producing Global Health Leaders in Rwanda and Beyond

Mike Lawrence
Feb 27, 2019 · 7 min read
UGHE’s campus greets a new day in January 2019. Leaders from the university, the Government of Rwanda, Partners In Health and academic institutions around the world gathered on the campus Jan. 25 for a formal inauguration of the Butaro campus. (Photo by Emmanuel Kamanzi/UGHE)

Fresh off a celebratory campus inauguration in January, and looking ahead to the graduation of its third class, the University of Global Health Equity in northern Rwanda is growing fast. UGHE is a Partners In Health initiative, dedicated to equity in all aspects global health delivery. As the university prepares to expand its programs, its alumni already are having impacts in their communities. Here’s a look at a few of those dynamic individuals, who share how their time at UGHE — whether two weeks or two years — prepared them to join the next generation of health leaders, in Rwanda and abroad.

Benjamin Ndayambaje, Master’s of Science in Global Health Delivery (MGHD), Class of 2017

Benjamin Ndayambaje talks with rice farmers in Nyagatare, Rwanda, about protective gear when spraying pesticides. (Photo by Zacharias Abubeker / for UGHE)

I was born and grew up in Uganda, in a refugee camp. Life there wasn’t easy for people from foreign countries. There were long distances to school, or to a clinic for medical checkups and treatments. The scarcity of resources created bottlenecks for most refugees. Environmental and hygienic conditions were not good in the camp. As a child, I aspired to be a medical doctor to save lives — especially for those in need.

In 2014–15, I won a competitive fellowship with Global Health Corps, and was placed in a senior position with the food security and livelihoods program with Partners In Health, known in Rwanda as Inshuti Mu Buzima. Moreover, I joined an online learning initiative through Harvard University and took a course titled, “Improving Global Health: Focusing on Quality and Safety,” and earned a certificate upon completion.

I strongly believe health is a human right! Since childhood, I’ve wanted to save animals to improve people’s health and well-being. Life in the camp in Uganda, as the son of a refugee, and my Global Health Corps experience with Partners In Health inspired me to apply for UGHE. Moreover, the UGHE mission and vision were stepping stones for me to acquire more skills and knowledge to participate in the global health arena.

My focus was on One Health. My capstone report focused on the use of pesticides and their effects on human, animal and environmental health in eastern Rwanda. Results of the study revealed the effects of improperly applied pesticides on humans, animals, and ecosystems. Moreover, the study recommended a multidisciplinary approach to address such health challenges, which are always multi-faceted in nature.

Read the full interview with Ndayambaje here.

Grace Dugan, MGHD, Class of 2018

Dr. Grace Dugan examines Frank Mugisha (pseudonym), then 6, in March 2017 in the pediatric ward at the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence, across a valley from UGHE. Frank had just completed 30 months of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. (Photo by Cecille Joan Avila / Partners In Health)

I grew up near Warwick in Queensland, Australia. This is a rural, farming area two hours away from a big city (Brisbane).

I’m a medical doctor and I had been working in Australia and New Zealand for 3.5 years before getting a job in global health. When I applied for a spot at UGHE I was working in Papua New Guinea in multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), which was an extremely challenging but deeply rewarding and, without exaggeration, life-changing experience. I had basically jumped ship from the normal career pathway for Australian doctors and figured out that I wanted to work in global health forever, but had no idea what to do next.

(At UGHE), we started with a semester that essentially was about the history and politics of global health, then we did research methods, management, and a practicum. We also had shorter courses in political economy, leadership, and management and communications, which were all great.

The master’s of science in global health delivery program gave me more confidence to take on managerial and leadership positions, and to potentially start my own project. A month after graduation, I was working in the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean, in an ambitious project which involved screening 22,000 people for TB and leprosy, as well as treating 4,500 people for latent TB.

Read the full interview with Dugan here.

Titus K. Koikoi, Global Health Delivery Leadership Program, 2016–17

Titus K. Koikoi is program director for global health nonprofit Population Services International in Liberia.(Photo by Zacharias Abubeker / for UGHE)

I grew up in a small town of about 3,000 people, called Fissebu, in Lofa County, northern Liberia. Both of my parents were teachers, so we lived in staff quarters on the campus of the Zorzor Rural Teachers Training Institute, where my father had been working. We had electricity and pipe-borne water in our homes on the campus, and I could clearly see the disparity between marginally poor people and those who could afford basic social services.

My work has usually focused on grant management; health systems strengthening; capacity building; service delivery; data management and usage; community engagement and advocacy; government and civil society coordination; and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). I’ve managed budgets of up to US$9.5 million, and currently work as program director for Population Services International (PSI) in Liberia.

My time at the GHDLP program was rewarding. I had a mix of both rural and urban experiences. I expanded my professional network and used the opportunity to discuss practical solutions around the many global health challenges we’re currently facing. I learned about innovative ways in which lessons from program implementation can enhance learning in the classroom.

I wake up every day remembering that service to humanity is the proudest engagement ever, and that health is an integral component of a more just, safe and better society. I feel humbled that my work in global health gives me an opportunity to plan and manage service delivery for my fellow Liberians, and by extension, the world’s population in general. I feel challenged on a daily basis to give back to society, and to be a critical voice that advocates for access to health by all.

Read the full interview with Koikoi here.

Eugene Sangano, MGHD, Class of 2017

Eugene Sangano is joined by Dr. Paul Farmer, PIH co-founder and chief strategist, at the graduation ceremony for UGHE’s inaugural Class of 2017. (Photo by Zacharias Abubeker / for UGHE)

When I joined UGHE, I was working as country director for Drew Cares International, an international NGO in Rwanda, and felt I needed more background in health and public health to be able to effectively advise my team and move programming forward.

My experience at UGHE accomplished exactly what I had hoped it would do for my career–it helped me gain the confidence to understand global health challenges and to come up with innovative solutions. But there was also so much more to my experience that I had not anticipated.

UGHE dramatically changed the way I think about public health. In public health, it’s popular to refer to populations in terms of statistics, but UGHE challenged me not just to think about reaching 90 percent of the population, but to care about and develop solutions for the remaining 10 percent. I learned the necessity of an equity-centered framework, and that has changed the way I approach my work.

UGHE faculty helped launch me into the next phase of my career–starting and building my own organization, the Alliance for Healthy Communities, which currently provides HIV prevention and treatment services in Rwanda.

Read more about Sangano’s experiences at UGHE here.

Irene Murungi, Global Health Delivery Leadership Program 2.0, 2018

Irene Murungi is a technical advisor for gender issues at The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) Uganda and the Uganda AIDS Commission. (Photo by Danny Kamanzi / UGHE)

GHDLP 2.0 was an opportunity to do an on-site check of my leadership skills and interpersonal skills, vis-a-vis what I thought I really had. So it was a time for me to really learn about myself, and to reflect on what I’ve been doing, how I’ve been doing it and how I can do it better.

I also appreciated the effectiveness of Rwanda’s community-based structure — that is, getting to the household, including for treatment of malaria, testing, and many health interventions. In Uganda, it’s only counseling and referrals. Looking at our village health teams that are really not doing the same as their counterparts in Rwanda. I think I learned that there is need for community health workers to be self-driven, and for communities to do more to appreciate their contributions.

The idea of being self-driven — and not just looking up to an implementing partner to keep on pushing for results — really is key.

And then, also realizing how social determinants affect health outcomes. You find that children and wives have been abandoned. So you realize that gender issues are really affecting the systems put in place. Coming back to Uganda, I’ve started really looking at how best I can focus on changing the gender-interrelated challenges that affect successful implementation of the different projects at hand.

Read the full interview with Murungi here.

Partners In Health

Partners In Health is a global health organization relentlessly committed to improving the health of poor and marginalized people.

Mike Lawrence

Written by

Writer/editor at Partners In Health, focusing on health systems and equity in Rwanda, Malawi, Lesotho and Kazakhstan.

Partners In Health

Partners In Health is a global health organization relentlessly committed to improving the health of poor and marginalized people.

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