Rwanda: A Message from Vice Chancellor Prof. Agnes Binagwaho Regarding COVID-19

Agnes Binagwaho, MD, M(Ped), PhD, Vice Chancellor, University of Global Health Equity (Kigali)
announcement

Kigali — Dear Readers, I hope you and your families are safe and well.

Around the world we are facing unprecedented times. COVID-19 is a global health emergency and a massive threat to the communities we serve and teach. Isolated and working on from home, I have watched on television some leaders respond to this global crisis, denying the danger and so pushing their nation into inaction. Some even suggested that we should "let the virus run its course", because of the economic impact of lockdown proposed to break the chain of transmission. For them, it is not important that people die. I reject this stance because they know that this attitude will lead to the death of the most vulnerable: the elderly and the poor. It denies these categories the right to live, the first among all the human rights. In the global health family, we need to protect people as our priority.

In all countries, "letting the virus run its course" will severely impact those who cannot afford expensive care such as testing and treatment, and those who will find it impossible to sustain containment measures when working from home is not an option and feeding their families is a priority. At UGHE, we recognize the key to preventing and fighting any health challenge is a resilient health system and a wide social support system with the right resources and effort to provide quality care. This means creating systems that focus on inclusion of the most vulnerable and under-resourced communities.

Across all curricula, we teach our students to have a holistic approach to health, taking in account the socio-determinants of health, integrating One Health, the preparation of infrastructure, equipment, and human resource as well as equity and the protection vulnerable. Our students will, therefore, understand that the impact of COVID-19 is different in each country. It highlights both the benefit of a human-centered governance, whilst also the structural violence and the ignorance of socio-determinant of health that creates systemic societal malfunction. The latter harms everyone, especially the vulnerable in society. The difference in the two approaches determines your risk to die or your chance to live.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus reminds us that, beyond the health sector, only a flexible governance with a holistic, human-centered approach will keep us safe, one that is capable of making tough decisions focused on caring for the most vulnerable. We should never forget that, in all societies, the vulnerable have less chance of surviving than the well-off, even when the societal system favors human development. We should also remember that across all societies, when the vulnerable thrive, the well-off are safe.

We will have other pandemics and we need to be ready to learn from this one and to prepare our students to respond to future outbreaks. This September, we will launch a module on 'Pandemic Preparedness and Response' so that graduates will be strategically ready to lead efforts of prevention against public health emergencies. We also plan to develop pandemic preparedness and response training for regional health care providers as part of our ongoing commitment to our community. Our research capacity is also growing. UGHE is already contributing to a number of COVID-19 research projects, and our new Institute of Global Health Research will make a One Health approach to global pandemics a pillar research agenda.

Above all, this challenging time has taught us that we need more collaboration on a global scale, through resources, equipment, and research sharing. This is the philosophy of the twelve sites of OnePIH, and we are proud to be part of this family because of its social justice north star and mission to provide a preferential option for the vulnerable, in the face of everything including COVID-19.

We stand in solidarity with health and relief organizations, clinical professionals, frontline health workers and volunteers around the world who are striving daily to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2 during this time of deep uncertainty.

I wish you all good health and safety during the coming months.

In solidarity,
Prof. Agnes Binagwaho

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