By India Ogazi 

Nine years ago, in 2004, most everyone watched “Hotel Rwanda” with dropped jaws and bleak hearts, as the film chronicled the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands in the east African country.

Don Cheadle was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor and the film went on to be highly-acclaimed in the film industry.

But for Rwandans this was more than just a movie; it was their reality.

While moviegoers marveled at their story, Rwandans were picking up the broken pieces from a brutal civil war that ravaged their country.

Almost 20 years later, Rwandans are still rebuilding their country’s economy and with it their medical workforce.

Although improvements have been made in Rwandans’ health outcomes for infectious diseases like malaria and child mortality, issues like maternal and child illness are still too high. More doctors are needed to help combat the country’s health disparities.

“Many doctors left Rwanda during the war for safety and economic reasons,” said Dr. Matthew Dacso, assistant professor of internal medicine and director of the Center for Global Health Education at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

For a country of more than 11 million, there are only 625 practicing physicians in Rwanda and only 150 specialists in priority clinical areas.

To rebuild Rwanda’s medical workforce, in August 2012, former U.S. Ambassador and Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. Eric Goosby, in coordination with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, launched the Rwanda Human Resources for Health Program.

The seven-year, $150 million program is a collaboration among top United States schools of medicine, nursing, health management and dentistry to bring medical faculty to Rwanda to teach medical students.

The majority of Rwandan doctors are general practitioners and have not completed a formal postgraduate training program to become specialists.

The country has one school of medicine, which opened in 1963, but only began offering in-country training in postgraduate studies for specialists in 2005.

The undergraduate medical student body has increased over the last several years; however, there aren’t enough postgraduate professors to train doctors to become specialists.

“We are very proud to be a part of the consortium of 14 schools of medicine, which include Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Duke, that will help recruit specialists who can teach,” said Dacso, who is head of the recruitment efforts at UTMB.

This is an opportunity for a doctor to take what he or she knows and make an impact in the lives of others — to pay it forward.”

The New England Journal of Medicine released a special report on the program on Nov. 21, crediting the program as a model for other impoverished countries.

Email Matthew Dacso, mmdacso@utmb.edu

The New England Journal of Medicine’s report:  www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr1302176