August 1, 2011

Update from Rwanda

Eleanor Hayes-Larson, GHLI Student Fellow
July 2011

 Me and two colleagues from the MOH (Lisa right, Mathilda left) after the kick-off of Mother –Child Health Week and Malaria Day in the northeastern district of Nyagatare
Me and Jill (another YSPH student) with women who recently learned to read and write, and some of their teachers. We had a chance to ask them questions through a friend who translated. We had a good exchange about maternal health both in Rwanda and in the US. This is a small town in the eastern district of Kayonza.

I cannot believe I’m in the middle of my 5th week here in Rwanda already! The health sector research policy is coming along nicely – we are currently gathering comments from key stakeholders on the draft. The most interesting parts of the job have also been some of the most challenging. My background is science – between chemistry and epidemiology – yet, all my work here is policy-related, a realm into which I have not previously ventured. The development of a national policy from just an idea to a full, living document is complicated. Some of my favorite days here have been those when I have gone to meet with stakeholders such as the National University of Rwanda School of Public Health, CDC, Project San Francisco (an NGO that works mainly on finding and HIV vaccine), and the Rwandan national AIDS commission. Learning about their work has enriched my understanding of health in Rwanda tremendously, as well as my broader understanding of how health research happens in the world.

The challenging part is to bring all these ideas (some conflicting) back to the office, and synthesize them into a useful policy that will meet everybody’s needs and serve to improve the state of research in Rwanda’s health sector.

In contrast to a chemistry lab, mixing A and B does not always equal C. At times, it has been frustrating for me to go through this process, when the end goal is so clear. At other times, it has been an amazing learning experience to really live the process of building a policy like this one from the ground up. Now that we are in the editing/finalizing phase, it is easier for me to understand why the process needs to work the way it does, and it feels very rewarding to have seen it through.

Though I may head back to a lab in the fall to do my MPH thesis, the lessons I have learned here about flexibility, synthesis of conflicting ideas, and process-oriented decision-making will stick with me for good!

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