A Win-Win for Global Health

A program partnering health workers in Rwanda and the U.S. needs to continue.

A child's finger is marked to have proof that he was vaccinated at town of Liboi, Kenya.
By + More

Over the past decade, we have made extraordinary gains against the world's deadliest diseases thanks to the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. These initiatives are saving millions of lives every year. In order to make these gains truly sustainable, we must now address a critical challenge in low-income countries: an acute shortage of highly-trained health professionals.

While Sub-Saharan Africa bears 24 percent of the global disease burden, it's served by only 4 percent of the global health workforce. As the World Health Organization just announced, the global health worker shortage stands at more than 7.2 million today and is expected to grow to 12.9 million by 2035.

A report that my colleagues and I published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" offers compelling new evidence about the power of partnership in helping Rwanda, my country, to overcome this obstacle. The Human Resources for Health program – financed by PEPFAR and The Global Fund – is building health care worker capacity in Rwanda over the next seven years to ensure that we can meet the pressing health challenges facing our people.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Announced in 2012 by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and former U.S.  President Bill Clinton, and launched by the U.S. Ambassador, Dr. Eric Goosby, a co-author on the report, the Human Resources for Health program deploys nearly 100 American faculty members to Rwanda each year – including physicians, midwives, nurses, dentists and management experts – from a consortium of 25 leading American medical institutions, to partner or "twin" with their peers at Rwandan institutions for at least one year to transfer invaluable skills and knowledge.

This "twinning" enables better curriculum development, teaching and clinical research that will ultimately empower Rwandan clinicians and educators to take charge of all instruction and health care delivery. By 2018, Rwanda's cadre of specialist physicians will have more than tripled, and the proportion of the country's nurses with advanced training will have increased by more than 500 percent. An additional 550 physicians, 2,800 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.

Rwanda is not the only country to benefit from this program, which breaks sharply from old models of foreign aid. This partnership is also a win-win for our American colleagues, who are learning more each day about what it takes to deliver care in resource-constrained settings. Such experiences are already enriching global health programs at universities throughout the United States and opening new doors for research collaboration between our two countries. Overall, this partnership – in both the clinical and research settings – will help the global health community better understand how we can collectively overcome health challenges in a more sustainable way.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Interdependence in global health is not just an abstract idea. In an age in which a single airplane flight can turn a drug-resistant pathogen into an international public health emergency, better-trained health workers in the developing world will improve prevention by bolstering our first-line of defense against serious global public health threats.

When world leaders meet in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 3 to pledge support for the Global Fund's work over the next three years, they will have an opportunity not only to help defeat the devastating scourges of AIDS, TB and malaria but also to help eliminate the underlying need for foreign aid in global health.