Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Report and Reflection: Dean’s Talk- Patrick Kyamanywa (Oct. 2nd, 2013)

Dean Patrick Kyamanywa strode to the front of the room, sat down on a stool, and peered out at his audience through his spectacles. Forty of us had collected at Open Grounds, a study and meeting space in the Corner building at the University of Virginia. The décor, heavy on granite, metal, and flat screens, was contemporary, perhaps even futurist. Images from Rwanda, land of a thousand hills, were projected all over the room. I felt like I was at a TED talk.

Dean Patrick is the Dean of Medicine at the National University of Rwanda. Over the past few years, there has been significant cross-talk between UVA and the National University of Rwanda. Several of my colleagues in the School of Medicine have had the opportunity to travel to Rwanda and learn about challenges in surgery and medical education outside America. All of them have come back raving about their time in Rwanda and most of them began seeking ways to return almost as soon as they came back!

Given the sci-fi feel of Open Grounds, I had expected a cool powerpoint presentation. Instead, Dean Patrick dazzled us all by speaking extemporaneously, only consulting his notes occasionally to ensure accuracy in his figures and quotations. His talk touched on several important issues. Most notably, he discussed the need for countries providing aid (whom he dubbed “The global North”) to seek input from the countries receiving aid (the “The global South”) regarding issues that need to be addressed in their country instead of being overtly prescriptive. Dean Patrick discussed several other aspects of international partnerships in the world of global health, noting how much Northern and Southern partners had to offer each other. He also made a compelling case for horizontal transfers of information: they allow for organizational independence in joint ventures as well as an efficient horizontal transfer of insight, and technology between southern partners.

I believe one marker of good speakers is that they leave you with more questions than answers. Dean Patrick did so by explicitly stating several questions for us to mull over during the discussion. One of his questions set me thinking: students who visit Rwanda gain immensely from the experience, but what do they give back?  

Several of the students in the audience had been recipients of scholarships that enabled us to travel abroad for research or mission trips. Personally, I had received three thousand dollars to conduct a small study in India. While there, I also had the opportunity to meet hundreds of my countrymen through weekly community health screenings. No book, no documentary, no public health class could have communicated to me the severity of health disparities in rural India or the enormity of the task before us like that summer’s work in India .

But was that really the best use of that money? What had I given back to India?

One of my most enduring memories from India is of an emaciated young boy who came up to me during a community health screening. He was thirteen years old, but looked like he was nine; his mother informed me that he had a weak heart. Slightly incredulous, I placed my shiny new stethoscope on his chest . “Lub-swoosh-dup….Lub-swoosh-dup….Lub-swoosh-dup...” went his ticker. There was no mistaking it: he had severe mitral regurgitation. I felt quite clever about my physical exam skills, but became quickly disenchanted when I realized that all I had done was label the child as a heart patient. After all, a valve replacement surgery costs at least half of his family’s earnings for an entire year! In all likelihood, the family would have to look on helplessly as his heart struggled with its leaky valve.

What good was my label to him?

Three thousand dollars could have paid for the surgeries of at least six children like him. Three thousand dollars may even have bought an ultrasound machine that cardiologists could use to monitor his condition. Three thousand dollars would easily pay for vaccination, vitamin supplementation, and deworming programs for him and all his classmates.

I blurted out a brief description of my time in India and asked the following question: “Transformative as the trip was for me, would the money have been better spent in more direct ways?”

Dean Patrick thought for a few seconds as he mulled over my question. To my relief, he smiled and then offered several arguments for why it was important to spend those three thousand dollars to provide me that experience. He argued that I had returned to UVA with a more sophisticated understanding of global health and with a fortified commitment to working on global health issues. Thus, he felt it was important to invest in a future generation of intellectuals from different fields who would grow to care about issues in the developing world based on their experiences during international research or mission trips. Hearing Dean Patrick’s answer made me feel grateful for the opportunities I had been given and reinforced what what is expected of me in the future. I am sure the other CGH scholars in the room felt the same way. I think everyone leaving the talk did so with their brain buzzing a touch more than usual.

Personally, I left thinking about how I would make those three thousand dollars count.

If you would also like to experience the challenges, joys, disappointments, and triumphs of research or service projects relevant to global health, do consider applying for a Center for Global Health scholarship. You can find out more at http://globalhealth.virginia.edu/. Information for the 2014 CGH Scholars Application Process will be available in the fall 2013.   In the meantime, please contact the Center with questions at 434.243.6383 or ctrglobalhealth@virginia.edu.

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