17 April 2018

Rwanda: Biotechnology Will Transform Rwanda's Health Sector - Expert

Professor Jacob Souopgui, a Cameroonian scholar from the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, together with a research team from Rwanda, have initiated a project that will facilitate the enhancement of skills in the biotech field.

The project is set to implement Master's and later PhD programmes aiming at addressing local skills gap in medical science and biotechnology.

Biotechnology is the exploitation of biological processes for industrial and other purposes, especially the genetic manipulation of microorganisms for the production of antibiotics, hormones, among others.

It is among the research fields of excellence with inestimable impact on the country's socio-economic development.

While coming up with the project, Souopgui was mainly focused on helping address on a myriad of issues within the health sector.

"I found out that for the case of health, just like in Cameroon, people spend a lot to go abroad for treatment, especially with surgeries. This is why I came up with the idea of training of Rwandan surgeons on how to use computer and television to address any surgical pathology. I started this project in Cameroon and later found out that I could also implement it here in Rwanda," he said.

He added that, "Through this strategy, I hope Rwandan medics will be competitive on the job market. You have an excellent leadership and, as such, a lot will certainly be achieved."

Souopgui pointed out the different global pharmaceutical companies that would be coming to open their industries in the country which means new job opportunities and that biotechnology project will be structured to answer the needs for Rwandans.

The project, which is set to start next year, will last for a period of five years.

Before coming up with the curriculum, Souopgui plans to meet academic staff and the private sector.

For instance, he says, in fields of live science, agriculture, health, and depending on the challenges present, a curriculum will be developed that will allow any graduate to be able to be productive in any of these fields.

He called on to Rwandans to keep up the momentum in taking ownership of this project in order for it to have the desired impact.

"We are coming to support but to be successful we need responsive people who will take ownership of the technology we are bringing and who will help and own the project and its implementation for the interest of the country, with this I am sure that our contribution will have an impact."

Origin of the idea

It was during last year's Rwanda Day event which was held in Belgium, that Souopgui got a chance to address President Paul Kagame where he revealed his involvement in several biotechnology and health projects in partnership with African universities, including the University of Rwanda (UR).

"I attended the event out of curiosity because I could not imagine that an African President would face thousands of people and answer questions just off-the-cuff without a prepared speech. For me it was really striking and it was a chance for me to talk to him about what I intended to do in Rwanda in collaboration with Rwandan (scientists)," he said.

Steps taken so far...

Among the issues that were raised at the gathering was that of technology and this is when he revealed his commitment to improve the quality of treatment and health services by focusing on training Rwandan surgeons locally.

"I took this as a challenge because I did it in Cameroon and its working. Through this strategy I hope we will be able to overcome these challenges."

Since July 2017, Prof Souopgui has conducted three working-visits to Rwanda.

Together with his local team, the scholar won a 5-year competitive training grant of 500.000€ from the Belgian University Cooperation funding Institution (ARES).

More importantly, they reached an agreement with a biopharmaceutical company, Medtronic Corporation, to equip a simulation laboratory (Sim-Lab) at the UR School of Medicine.

With the support from the Ministry of Health and University of Rwanda, the first stakeholder workshop took place in July 2017 to strategise the implementation of minimally invasive techniques in health system.

Laparoscopic surgery, also referred to as minimally invasive surgery, is the performance of surgical procedures with the assistance of a video camera and several thin instruments.

In October and November 2017, two hands-on laparoscopic surgery practices led by 15 South-North expert surgeons were respectively performed at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali under the supervision of the Director General of the hospital, Dr Theobald Hategekimana.

In total, 63 patients were successfully treated and among whom more than 10 were referred abroad. Young Rwandan surgeons took part in these local training workshops.

From January 13-16, 2018, in the framework of the same 5-year project, a group of digestive surgeons led by a world-renowned surgeon, Prof. Jean Jacques Houben from ULB, conducted a mission to assist selection of best young Rwandan surgeons to be trained in Belgium in this laparoscopic technique as future trainers who ultimately would guarantee sustainable onsite training in Rwanda (training of trainers).

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