Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Rwanda: Using Innovation through Drones to Save Lives

Rwanda: Using Innovation through Drones to Save Lives

Video produced by Zipline. 2016. 

Africa: Govt Closer to Using Drones in Medical Supplies Delivery


Zipline Inc, a California-based robotics firm Friday announced details of a partnership with Government to make on-demand deliveries of life-saving medical products using drones.

This follows a deal signed in February, between the government and the firm to build infrastructure for unmanned aerial system (UAS) to ensure efficient logistical transportation of medical supplies in the country.

Speaking during a press briefing, the Minister for Youth and ICT, Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, said that Rwanda is ready to receive the first delivery of drones.

"We have had a fruitful and a fun-filled week talking about the forth industrial revolution at the World Economic Forum (WEF). I think it's very significant for people to know that what they might think will be achieved in future, is already here in Rwanda. We already have the technology that people think we will have in the future. Rwanda is ready to receive the network of drones, and I truly believe this is going to shape the future," Nsengimana noted. 


Often, essential health products don't reach the people who urgently need them.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), millions of mothers and children die every year due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, and affordable medical interventions.

However, in the developing world, access to these interventions is hampered by what is known as the last-mile problem: the inability to deliver needed medicine from a city to rural or remote locations due to lack of adequate transportation, communication and supply chain infrastructure.
The distribution of blood products is particularly challenging given the strict temperature requirements and short shelf life. Africa has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the world, mainly due to post partum hemorrhaging, which makes access to lifesaving blood transfusions critically important for women across the continent.

In Rwanda, rural hospitals have struggled with supplies in the past due to their isolated locations. Most life-saving supplies are currently delivered via motorcycles.  According to Dr Agnes Binagwaho, the Minister for Health, the initiative is truly a life-saving technology.  "We have established that if we manage to use this technology, it will be a life-saving initiative. There are a lot of advantages, but I'm also hopeful that as pioneers we learn by doing. Although, I can't predict how many lives will be saved, even saving one life is crucial," she said.

What Zipline is bringing

According to Keller Rinaudo, Zipline Chief Executive Officer, the company is working with the government of Rwanda to create a network of delivery drones that will ferry medical supplierding to the World Health Organisation (WHO), millions of mothers and children die every year due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, and affordable medical interventions.

However, in the developing world, access to these interventions is hampered by what is known as the last-mile problem: the inability to deliver needed medicine from a city to rural or remote locations due to lack of adequate transportation, communication and supply chain infrastructure.
The distribution of blood products is particularly challenging given the strict temperature requirements and short shelf life. Africa has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the world, mainly due to post partum hemorrhaging, which makes access to lifesaving blood transfusions critically important for women across the continent.  

The network will have capacity to make 50 to 150 deliveries per day, using a fleet of 15 drones, each with twin electric motors and an almost eight-foot wingspan. The unmanned drones will use GPS to navigate, and will airdrop supplies before returning to the landing strip from which they were launched.

"The inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year. Zipline will help solve that problem once and for all. We've built an instant delivery system for the world, allowing medicines and other products to be delivered on-demand and at a low-cost, anywhere," said Rinaudo.

Starting July, the government will begin a public-private partnership with Zipline for the last-mile delivery of all blood products throughout the country. A team of Rwandan and American engineers will set up and operate Zipline's first Hub in Muhanga District. From this Hub, Zipline will deliver life-saving blood to 21 facilities located in the Northern, Western, and Southern Provinces.
Zipline plans to expand services to Eastern Province in early 2017, putting almost every one of Rwanda's 11 million citizens within range of lifesaving medical product deliveries.

The partnership will strengthen ongoing efforts by the Ministry of Health to deliver a high standard of health care.

First Lady urges action to end neglected tropical diseases




First Lady Jeannette Kagame addresses the   meeting on NTDs in Kigali yesterday. (Courtesy)


Africa needs stronger commitment from both public and private sectors to tackle Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) on the continent, First Lady Jeannette Kagame has said.  Mrs Kagame made the remarks, yesterday, at a World Economic Forum-sanctioned event convened by the END Fund on ending neglected tropical diseases on the continent.  The event intended to shade more light on the continent’s health issues, and particularly called for increased investments in NTD control in sub-Saharan Africa.  The event was attended by Her Royal Highness the Queen of Buganda Kingdom of Uganda, Sylvia Nagginda; the Chief Executive of the END Fund, Ellen Agler; the Minister for Health, Dr Agnes Binagwaho, among other officials and health experts.


Buganda Queen Sylivia Nagginda delivers her keynote address at the meeting. (Courtesy) 

A study conducted by Erasmus University, and released at the End Fund event, indicates that Sub-Saharan Africa could save up to $52 billion by 2030 if the region meets the World Health Organisation’s 2020 control and eliminations target for the five most common neglected tropical diseases, such as Elephantiasis, River blindness, Bilharzia, Intestinal worms and Trachoma.
The study was conducted with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mrs Kagame said this kind of events bring more light to some of the health issues still affecting the region, calling for stronger partnerships in bringing an end to the NTDs.  “In a world fast evolving and creating new solutions to various health, environmental, socio-economic problems, while connecting people through technology, it comes as a sad irony that such a large population of our planet still struggles with diseases that should have been eradicated a long time ago,” the First Lady said. Figures indicate that 1.6 billion people have had at least one tropical disease, while 500,000 die each year from complications linked to the diseases.  Mrs Kagame said “the figures of the number of people affected worldwide each year, by these various tropical diseases are indeed alarming.”
“I believe that, for our communities to pave the way to a future free from these health issues, we must continue educating our populations on how to protect themselves, but also further invest in strengthening institutions for more efficient health care systems, able to respond rapidly to this kind of crises,” she said.

Discussing the role of traditional and cultural institutions to end NTDs, Queen Nagginda said NDTs have been recognised as a health challenge “yet little attention have been paid to this challenge.”
She said NTDs are mostly found along the Rift Valley side of Uganda and urged cultural leaders to be part of the campaign to end the diseases.  “Cultural institutions have a role to play in fighting NTDs through partnering with health institutions to promote healthcare programmes. Cultural leaders have the ability to mobilise, modernise communities towards health care and development matters,” 
Through her Nnabagereka Foundation, the Queen of Buganda has been involved in several health advocacy and women empowerment efforts in Buganda region in central Uganda.

On Rwanda’s case, according to the Ministry of Health, there were no large scale NTDs control efforts in place and data on the burden of the diseases until 2007.  However, over the last eight years, the Government, with support of partners such as The End Fund, has taken steps to reduce the burden of NTDs.  Dr Binagwaho said Government has since mapped the prevalence of intestinal worms, bilharzia, elephantiasis and Trachoma, adding that it is now “implementing a comprehensive approach to improve hygiene, mass drug administration, among other NTDS case management campaigns.”


Health minister Dr Agnes Binagwaho addresses the question of NTDs with Agler. (Courtesy)

“The Government has tripled the budget to curb NTDs in the last three years, and it seeks to double the budget in the next two years,” she said. End Fund’s Agler said NTDs control efforts “offer a return on investment unparalleled in global health.”

“Ending these debilitating diseases will help reduce poverty at all levels,” Agler said.
Mrs Kagame said, over time, Rwanda has seen a decrease in the number of people affected by these infections and the country now considers only two of the five NTDs to be a public health problem.
“I trust that such a conversation, will help create a stronger sense of our shared responsibility in fighting these diseases, while implementing strategies that can significantly empower our communities to fully thrive, to live the kind of dignified lives, we all so rightfully deserve, irrespective of our cultural or economic backgrounds.”

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rwanda Army Joins Battle Against Malaria


Rwanda Army Joins Battle Against Malaria

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Medics tipped on professionalism

PUBLISHED: March 28, 2016 in The New Times - Rwanda  By: STEVEN MUVUNYI


Minister Binagwaho (C)speaks as Prof. Rwamasirabo (L) outgoing chairman, and Dr
Rudakemwa, the new chairman look on during the meeting in Kigali. (Steven Muvunyi)

Medics have been urged to improve their profession by prioritising the common good
of the medical practice.
The call was made by the Minister for Health, Dr Agnes Binagwaho during the
election of the National Council of the Rwanda Medical and Dental Association.
Minister Binagwaho told the medics to positively brand their profession, despite the shortage of doctors and teachers’ in the country.
“We need to consider how we want the population to perceive us. We have to prove
that we are the right people at the right place, with the right knowledge, right ethics
and the right morale,” she said.
Binagwaho asked medics to be humble in order to deliver correctly.
“The improvement of our profession is a continuous process. Gone are the days a
doctor did and knew everything. A good doctor has to learn every day since science is
an evolution,” she added.
The elected national board that will serve a four-year term is composed of Dr
Emmanuel Rudakemwa, the chairman, Dr Jean Claude Byiringiro, the vice
chairperson, Dr Albert Nzayisenga, the secretary as well as Dr Kaitesi Mukara Batamuriza, the treasurer.
The national board also includes representatives of the public medical and dental schools, dental and private practitioners among others.
The voters were twenty nine provincial representatives. Prof. Emille Rwamasirabo,
the outgoing chairman of the council was pleased by the progress made during his
tenure and advised the new committee to work hard to impact Rwanda’s medical
“Many professional malpractices were solved, but we still need to work on the improvement of uncaring doctors and increase the training,” he said.
Dr Rudakemwa, a radiologist, newly elected chairman of the council said the new committee will work hard for quality improvement in medical practices.
“With the partnership and cooperation with the Ministry of Health and the
outgoing committee, we hope to take this institution to greater heights,” he said.
Established in 2003, Rwanda Medical and Dental Council is responsible for the regulation of medical and dental practice in Rwanda.
It is in charge of registering and licensing all medical and dental practitioners. 

Experts discuss health financing

Published in The New Times -Rwanda on March 31, 2016 by HUDSON KUTEESA

Minister Binagwaho (R) explains the need to finance the health sector as Minister Gatete (C)
and Jesse Joseph of USAID look on during the meeting in Bugesera. (Doreen Umutesi)
Local and international experts on health financing are meeting in Nyamata, Bugesera District to discuss the desired health financing modifications and how they can be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.
The two-day conference that opened yesterday is held under the theme: “Health financing reforms in the eve of sustainable development goals.”
The conference attracted over 150 participants, including experts from Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, deliberating on how current health financing policies can be a stepping-stone toward achieving the SDGs.
The national and international experts, especially those who have contributed in the design and implementation of health financing reforms in Rwanda are sharing current state of health financing policies and brainstorming about the future directions.
Minister Gatete explains the challenges of priotising finance in the health sector.
Dr Agnes Binagwaho, the Minister for Health in an interview with journalists said the conference would come up with ideas on how to generate finances for the health sector and look at ways of using it efficiently.
“Rwanda has achieved the SDGs, but to us, it is not enough. We want more achievements and it needs money.
So these health financing experts are gathering to come up with innovations of financing the health sector and how we can use the finances efficiently.We need innovation for example electronic medical records which use ICT linked with diagnostics. Such innovations reduce the money spent or bring efficient spending. We hope to come up with solutions for the future in the global architecture of health.”
Claver Gatete, the Minister for Finance and Economic Planning emphasised the importance of financing the health sector which he described as the foundation of all development in Rwanda.
“The health sector is an area that we can’t avoid because it will come back and haunt us. It is the foundation of all development in Rwanda.The topic of health financing is very timely. It comes at a time when we are looking at what we have achieved in vision 2020. So, it will help us to see ways of financing the health sector and how we can work with the other financing institutions to contribute to the sector,” he said.
“Investing in health sector is very important.For instance if we invest in health equipment, there will be no more going to India for surgeries and other complex medical processes.And this can save a lot of money and even bring in forex when neighbouring countries send their patients for treatment here.”
He also called for innovation that will see Rwanda be able to finance such institutions without depending on support from outside countries, citing an example from last year’s budget where 66 per cent was from domestic resources, 14 percent borrowed and 20 per cent from grants.
“We should think differently. We cannot expect that money will always be coming from outside all the time.We have to think innovatively towards health financing by working with partners, tapping into the private sector institutions and most importantly engaging the population.”
He expressed hope that by working together, the health system can change for the better and thanked the financing partners working with the ministry of health including Global Fund, the US government, Bill Gates Foundation, Rocke Fella Foundationand bilateral donors like the Belgians among others.
The Rwanda Vision 2020 considers health financial accessibility as a key priority among its strategic direction
Among the anticipated outcomes of the meeting are understanding the current status of global health financing reforms in the areas of universal health coverage and quality assurance approaches; reviewing of different approaches to ensure sustainable quality improvement and exploration of ways to link financial reforms with quality assurance and improved initiatives.
The discussions from the meeting will feed into the current government process of developing a health sustainability plan for the whole health sector.

Undergrad Interns for Rwandan Health Minister

University of Vermont  University Communications


Sarriera and Binagwaho
Just before this photo was taken in March 2015, Gabriela Sarriera ’17 dared to ask Rwanda’s minister of health for a job or internship or some way to contribute to the global health leader’s work. One year later, she’s living in Kigali, helping Dr. Agnes Binagwaho research policy that affects equal access to healthcare. (Photos courtesy of Sarriera)

As one of six kids, Gabriela Sarriera '17 is practiced in the art of speaking up and asking for what she wants. So when the microbiology major heard the Rwandan minister of health deliver a moving talk at the Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale last year, she waited patiently in the long line after the keynote — not to ask for a photo as others had done — but to ask for a job.
“I want to know how can I help,” she remembers telling Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, a pediatrician who returned to her home country after the genocide and has helped recover a ravaged health system. Sarriera, who attended the conference as a member of UVM’s global health club, MedVida, also has plans to pursue medical school and become a pediatrician. But beyond just a career role model for Sarriera, Binagwaho is an inspiration.
The minister is the 2015 winner of the Roux Prize for her work to rebuild trust in the Rwandan health system and her contribution to initiatives that have increased the country’s life expectancy by 20 years, drastically dropped the maternal mortality rate, and, now that people are living longer, is expanding care for non-communicable diseases, as well. The Atlantic has called it a historic recovery — one the U.S. could learn from.
Sarriera promised the minister that if she accepted her help, she would find a way to get to Rwanda. FaceTiming from Kigali nearly 12 months after the Yale conference, Sarriera makes clear the gratitude she has for Binagwaho, who, amazingly, took a chance on the undergrad by offering her an internship, exposing her to work normally reserved for graduate students.

Healthcare for all

For three months now, Sarriera’s been immersed in learning the history of the Rwandan legal system. Why law when it’s medicine she wants to pursue? Her project expands on Binagwaho’s doctoral research, which uncovered troubling limits the colonial-influenced legal system puts on ensuring all citizens have the same access to healthcare. The path forward in the health sector means fully understanding policy that’s been shaped by a complex history.
Sarriera’s work began Christmas day with a flight to Europe, where the English minor began her internship with a document search, trying to trace the history of the book of laws that’s the basis for Rwanda’s legal system.

READ MORE : http://www.uvm.edu/~uvmpr/?Page=news&storyID=22598&category=four_sq

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Vaccines in Rwanda

Please see this piece on vaccines in Rwanda recently published by Vaccineswork.  It was a pleasure working on this article with Anisha Hedge, a medical student at the University of Virginia who spent the past summer in Rwanda.  Here, we provide an overview of the benefits of vaccines in our efforts to improve the health and well-being of Rwanda. Please see the entire article here: http://tmblr.co/Z_c1Ou1tXdTN1

Rwanda’s sustainable strategy for saving lives

Agnes Binagwaho, Ministry of Health Rwanda and Anisha Hedge, University of Virginia School of Medicine.
Rwanda has demonstrated the value of vaccines over the past 15 years, as the rollout of new and underused vaccines has helped us reduce under-five mortality by two thirds, and achieve the fourth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) along the way. This year, as the world transitions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and partners aim to end poverty by 2030, immunisation must remain at the core of the health agenda. As well as saving lives, the benefits of vaccination programmes stretch beyond immunisation to improving health services and promoting social integration, and Rwanda is the case study to prove it.

1. Vaccination campaigns at the centre of societal development

Rwanda has increased basic vaccine coverage (DTP3) from 77% in 2001 to 99% in 2014. In the last seven years Rwanda has introduced new and under-used vaccines against pneumococcus, rotavirus, rubella and human papillomavirus (HPV), and maintained high rates for traditional vaccines. Vaccination campaigns present the opportunity to reach out to the population with a range of other health services. During the pneumococcal campaign in 2009, advice was given on causes and symptoms of pneumonia to facilitate early detection and access to treatment. Community health workers also educated parents on good health practices such as breastfeeding and wholesome nutrition.

2. Achieving equality in healthcare 

To encourage equal access to health care, Rwanda holds a Mother and Child Health Week twice a year. It offers a range of health services; vaccination campaigns such as rubella and HPV for adolescent girls, the provision of iron tablets for pregnant and lactating women to prevent anaemia, vitamin A supplements for all children under five years and a family planning campaign for women of reproductive age.

A mother and baby at the launch of rotavirus vaccine in Rwanda in 2012, which protects against a leading cause of diarrhoea. Photo: Gavi/Diane Summers.

3. Forging national partnerships

Vaccination programmes have fostered new working relations between different governmental and non-governmental organisations. This was evident with the rollout of the HPV vaccine in schools in Rwanda which involved a partnership between the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and the Ministry of Local Government in order to reach adolescent girls in schools and communities. 

4. Strengthening healthcare infrastructure

Adequate health system infrastructure is essential for the effective rollout of vaccines. In Rwanda this has included improved waste disposal facilities for contaminated materials, new cold rooms for temperature-controlled storage and increased medical storage capacity. 

5. Sustainability

Currently, the Rwandan government self-finances all traditional vaccines, such as the tuberculosis vaccine BCG, and co-finances with international partners to provide new and under-utilised vaccines. This trend has been demonstrated with the pneumococcal vaccine and is currently unfolding with the HPV vaccine, which protects against major causes of cervical cancer. Looking ahead, we hope that as demand increases, vaccine prices will be driven down, thereby creating a sustainable future for vaccine provision. 
Globally, there is still a way to go. One in five children in Gavi supported countries still miss out on the basic package of childhood vaccines; around the world about 1.5 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases each year. But as our country has shown, immunisation can sustainably address this inequity, and so much more besides. With immunisation as part of the next set of development goals, we can help all countries make the most of these vital tools, and we should — because life, whether lived in the remote areas of Rwanda or the suburbs of London, deserves a fighting chance.