In June of 2008, a group of 19 medical professionals from Spokane, Washington made a trip to Rwanda to offer their help in supporting the medical system in Rwanda that was decimated after the genocide of 1994. This group had made a contact with a Rwandan group of young physicians – Health Development Initiative – who were looking for ways to develop their ability to provide medical care to the uninsured of Rwanda. The 2-week trip included teaching and mentoring young physicians while evaluating future areas that could be helped and ultimately making a commitment to return with several specialized teams to help to improve the health care system in Rwanda.
In September of 2008, Healing Hearts Northwest agreed to join 3 other teams in providing open-heart surgeries for individuals unable to receive this treatment in the present medical system and to help in the establishment of a sustainable open-heart surgical program at King Faisal Hospital in Rwanda. These teams included Team Open Heart (now Open Heart International) from Australia, Team Heart from Boston and Chain of Hope from Belgium. Each team travels to Rwanda on a quarterly schedule and although each team visits at a different time a tremendous amount of coordination is done to establish a single program to mentor for the Rwandan staff. Healing Hearts Northwest made its first trip in 2010, and completed 16 open-heart surgeries. A second trip in April 2011, continued the mission, completing 17 surgeries. Three more surgical trips have now been completed in 2012 and 2013, 2015.
Healing Hearts Northwest has now completed 82 open-heart surgeries on children and young adults in Rwanda. There have been many changes in the health care system since our first trip. A large group of Rwandan staff now join us during our visits and have continued to improve their medical skills and systems to provide care for these patients. We have included approximately 150 staff, from all over the United States, with the majority coming from the Pacific Northwest. We continue to be committed to the establishment of an independent, sustainable Rwandan cardiac surgical program.
Healing Hearts Northwest became a 501c3 nonprofit organization in 2012.
Why Rwanda? The 1994 genocide resulted in the destruction of the existing medical system of hospitals, medical schools, and trained medical support personnel. Seventy-five percent of the medical community was either murdered or left the country. There are currently 625 physicians for a country of 11 million. High rates of maternal and childhood illnesses, rheumatic heart disease, and malaria limit the life expectancy to 62 years of age.
While a new generation of Rwandan physicians is actively involved in rebuilding their country’s medical infrastructure, the need for foreign resources is overwhelming. Our connection with King Faisal Hospital and Dr. Joseph Mucumbitsi has made it possible for Healing Hearts Northwest to develop a plan of teaching, training, and supporting local physicians, medical students, and health care providers. This can be done both in the hospital and at rural clinics and villages. Focusing on Rwanda’s health care providers will promote our common vision of a more independent and sustainable healthcare system for Rwanda.
For more information about Rwanda check out Human Resources for Health at http://hrhconsortium.moh.gov.rw/
Within its mission, HHNW’s goal is to teach and train Rwandan health professionals and thereby create an independent sustainable system in the following areas:
- Establish a medical surgical team from Spokane, Washington which will provide continuity of care with other teams already operating in the country or planning to operate in Rwanda. Currently these teams include Open Heart International from Australia, Team Heart from Boston and Chain of Hope from Belgium. Together we would establish a quarterly surgical and training system for both pediatric and adult patient care.
- Establish a program that teaches and trains medical personnel in the hospital to manage acute patient care, improving skills to manage complex patients. Significant work has been done and is continuing to coordinate our patient care and training materials with all the visiting teams to provide continuity to the Rwandan staff. Our teams have worked together to establish similar training tools, screening criteria and patient selection, patient charts, and discharge planning.
- Assist in the establishment of a system to follow, monitor and advocate for all patients that have received surgery through the visiting cardiac program. In 2013, a full time nurse has been hired to coordinate the efforts of the visiting teams, establish follow up for all surgical patients, and monitor ongoing care.