PROJECT UMUBANO: Dr Suzanne Bartington blogs about public health in Rwanda

As a Public Health doctor, volunteering for the health component of Project Umubano in Rwanda this summer provided an invaluable opportunity to learn about a country which has emerged from the tragic genocide of 1994, to be widely recognised as a global model for health improvement.

At my first visit to the University of Rwanda School of Public Health, I learned of the significant reductions in maternal and infant mortality and deaths from HIV, TB and malaria achieved over the past two decades. Although challenges remain, notably an increasing chronic disease burden, rapid progress has been attributed to universal health insurance coverage and a national network of community healthcare workers. I was particularly impressed by the commitment to preventative initiatives, such as a monthly car-free Sunday in Kigali, to improve air quality and encourage physical activity. Air pollution was also the focus of my visit to the College of Science & Technology, where I helped researchers establish a two-year research programme to reduce the harmful effects of charcoal cooking smoke exposure among women and children in rural households.

One of the most rewarding experiences was the opportunity to teach final year medical students. The sessions encouraged students to critically assess and apply research evidence, within a clinical system predominately directed by clinical guidelines.

I returned from Rwanda with the sense of a country that has placed public health at the centre of economic development. On a personal level, I developed an admiration for the resilience of Rwandan people, who cherish the stability and prosperity of this beautiful country.