What led you to support Health Builders in Rwanda?
My background is in healthcare and a lifelong goal has been to become involved in advancing the rights and leadership opportunities for nurses in East Africa. I spent a great deal of time visiting different East African countries looking for an initiative that would be sustainable (by partnering with the country’s Ministry of Health), locally staffed, and offered meaningful opportunities for females living in the poorest rural areas. Health Builders fit all these criteria. I then decided to go to graduate school in 2011 to update my knowledge and skills so I would be confident both supporting and becoming actively involved with Health Builders. I thought there would be many other 50-somethings going back to school; there were not. My classmates, mostly female, were in their 20’s and 30’s. We learned a great deal from each other and became a tight-knit group to this day. The three years of attending graduate school were absolutely the most life-enriching and empowering time of my life.
How has Health Builders been impacted by COVID-19 in terms of capacity building for health care providers in Rwanda?
COVID-19 is having a severe impact in Rwanda as the treatment options that we may take for granted in the U.S. and elsewhere of oxygen, medications, and ventilators are scarce in the rural areas of Rwanda. Health center staff and community health workers are showing great resilience, however, in the face of this. Health Builders has been able to provide training and personal protective equipment to support them in their response, along with our ongoing management and clinical training. This is a time where leadership is needed and the nurses who come from the rural communities are stepping up, with limited resources but a fierce determination to save as many lives as possible from this disease. These communities have faced genocide in 1994 and recovery is still underway so there is a laser focus on continuing the progress made to date and the preservation of life.
How has the pandemic changed how healthcare is provided to Rwandan communities?
It is interesting to note that due to the recent Ebola threat on their border with Congo, nurses are quickly transforming the knowledge and skills learned from that threat to mitigate the effect of this current pandemic. However, in a low-income country with high rates of poverty, malnutrition, stunting, maternal/child mortality, and infectious disease, the challenge becomes immense as this population can ill afford the ravages of COVID-19 which is now spreading faster. Importantly and as elsewhere, women are suffering more consequences with loss of health care services, higher rates of gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies, and inability to feed their families.