US Partners With Rwanda to Dramatically Expand Health Workforce

Clinton visit to Rwanda HRH program

Photo by David Dini

Published November 21, 2013, last updated on April 9, 2018

The New England Journal of Medicine released a special report detailing the largest-scale global health partnership ever initiated between American universities and a low-income country. Announced by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and former US President Bill Clinton in 2012, Rwanda’s Human Resources for Health Program is a seven-year, $150 million collaboration between the US and Rwandan government and 25 leading US academic institutions, including Duke University. 

On the heels of a World Health Organization warning in Brazil last week that the world faces a shortage of 7.2 million health workers, the article’s publication marks a pivot away from short-term missions and contracts toward longterm partnerships to bridge workforce gaps. 

Former US Global AIDS Coordinator and US Ambassador for Global Health Diplomacy, Dr. Eric Goosby—senior author on the article—launched the program in Kigali in 2012. Each year, more than 100 American professors of medicine, nursing and midwifery, dentistry and health management work in Rwanda alongside Rwandan faculty to build residency programs, strengthen instruction quality, and substantially increase the output of new health workers.

“Rwanda’s example, and the Human Resources for Health Program in particular, have the potential to transform global health by serving as a model for any country that wants to increase the efficiency of foreign aid and improve the health of its people. The launch of this program has been the highlight of a decade of partnership, and I'm excited by its possibilities,” said President Clinton.

Since 2000, Rwanda has reduced mortality due to HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria by nearly 80%, and the country’s life expectancy has more than doubled since the mid-1990s. As deaths from major infectious diseases have plummeted and as HIV patients live longer, chronic noncommunicable diseases account for a growing proportion of Rwanda’s disease burden— especially among the HIV-positive patient cohort. Rwanda’s Human Resources for Health Program will increase the number of Rwandan faculty available to train future health ! 2 professionals. By dramatically increasing the number, quality, and skill level of Rwandan clinicians and health sciences educators, the program aims to build the health education infrastructure and workforce needed to create a sustainable and advanced health care system.

“By simply reallocating existing funds—without spending one additional cent—this partnership is allowing Rwanda to move from a brain drain to a brain gain of unprecedented magnitude in the health sector,” said Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Rwanda’s Minister of Health and lead author of the new article. “Together, we are training a highly skilled health workforce built to last, and equipping them with the tools they need to save lives. In essence, we are investing in Rwanda’s greatest resource: its people.”

The program’s $150 million budget is comprised of US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) that is channeled through a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention directly to the Rwandan Ministry of Health, along with support from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In an unprecedented move to improve efficiency of existing foreign aid, the US government redirected funds from projects completed by non-governmental organizations to the Ministry of Health, lowering administrative costs and freeing funds for the new program. Because every American university partner agreed to no overhead and less than 7% administrative costs, Rwanda’s Human Resources for Health Program represents a unique model for foreign aid focused on greater efficiency, country ownership, and sustainable development. The Clinton Health Access Initiative has helped to convene the American consortium of schools and academic medical centers.

“At its very best, academic medicine integrates service delivery, teaching, and research in a virtuous cycle. For Harvard and our many American partners in this consortium, contributing to this program has been an opportunity to not only serve and improve care delivery in Rwanda, but also to learn much that we can apply back in the United States,” says Dr. Paul Farmer, cofounder of the nonprofit Partners In Health, professor at Harvard University, and board member at the Duke Global Health Institute.

By the program’s conclusion in 2018, Rwanda’s specialist physician capacity will have more than tripled, and the proportion of the country’s nurses with advanced training will have increased by more than 500%. An additional 550 physicians, 2800 nurses and midwives, 300 oral health professionals, and 150 health managers will have been newly trained in Rwanda—all of whom will have signed contracts to work in the country for a certain number of years based on the degree they obtain. Thereafter, the Rwandan government plans to fully finance the health workforce and medical education system on its own.

Learn more about Rwanda’s Human Resources for Health Program.