Agnes Binagwaho

 {Photo credit: Todd Shapera}Emanuel Bizimungu, a community health worker in eastern Rwanda, examines a girl.Photo credit: Todd Shapera

As the United Nations General Assembly kicks off general debate on the post-2015 development agenda this week, advocates of a universal health coverage (UHC) target are rallying other organizations to build and showcase support around UHC. These efforts include high-profile events on Monday and Tuesday, both hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation with partner support. On Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson hosted an event on the key role of frontline health workers to efforts like these. This post, which originally appeared on The Lancet Global Health Blog, is part of a "Rallying for UHC" series: MSH bloggers expanding on the themes raised by these events and considering the road ahead for UHC in post-2015 discussions. Readers can participate by adding comments on the blog posts, or joining the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag.  

Dr. Jonathan Quick, President and CEO of MSH, tours with Dr. Christian Nzitimira, director of Kibagabaga Hospital in Rwanda. {Photo credit: Jon Jay/MSH.}Photo credit: Jon Jay/MSH.

In a postoperative ward of Kibagabaga Hospital, the district hospital serving Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, Eric Bizimana sits up in bed. Bizimana, 25, had sought care after severe pain in his right leg forced him to stop work as a barber. He was diagnosed with a bone infection called osteomyelitis. Antibiotics alone couldn’t clear the infection. Without an operation to remove the diseased bone, Eric faced the possibility of losing his leg.

Eric was one of the 40 patients who enter Kibagabaga for surgery every day. In Rwanda’s tiered healthcare delivery system, patients are referred from local health centers up to the district hospital when their conditions require more complex care. Most babies are delivered at health centers, for example, but a woman suffering complications or who was expected to need a C-section would be referred to the district level.

Dr. Agnes Binagwaho is a pediatrician and serves as the Minister of Health of Rwanda. {Photo credit: dr-agnes.blogspot.com/}Photo credit: dr-agnes.blogspot.com/

The second Global Maternal Health Conference began yesterday in Arusha, Tanzania, as an intentional dialogue between scientists, researchers, implementers, advocates, policymakers, and media. More than 700 people (from about 2000 abstracts) were selected to attend and share knowledge on how to improve the quality of care and eliminate maternal deaths.

This is my first global maternal health conference --- but not my first maternal health conference. I keep wondering: how will this one be different?

As I went through the first day of sessions and informal exchanges, I couldn't help feeling like one person "stole the show". At lunch and dinner, the conversations kept coming back to the dynamic Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the Minister of Health from Rwanda. She served as the keynote speaker in the opening plenary and a panelist for another session.

When you hear Dr. Agnes speak, you know she is smart and accomplished. And, talking with other attendees, it is clear that, regardless if participants agreed with her specific recommendations, Dr. Agnes' commitment, knowledge, logic, and candor are appreciated and needed in the conference conversation.

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