Human Resources for Health: Addressing Rwanda’s Shortage of Health Professionals

Sub-Saharan Africa bears 24% of the global burden of disease but is served by only 4% of the global health workforce. (WHO)

In four short weeks, I’ll be working as a Research Intern at the Rwanda Biomedical Center in Kigali; I have never been more excited to step out of my comfort zone than I am in this moment. The efforts taking place in Rwanda are a spectacular example of what it takes to rebuild a public health system. The 1994 genocide deteriorated Rwanda’s fragile economy and health infrastructure. As a result of the widespread violence, the nation experienced a significant loss of health care professionals and a steep increase in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. (as of 2012, the estimated HIV prevalence is 2.9%). Concern over the Rwanda’s skyrocketing AIDS epidemic led the Government of Rwanda to collaborate with Partners in Health and the Clinton Health Access Initiative in 2005. This partnership has come a long way:

  • PIH supports the Government of Rwanda’s delivery of health care services to approx. 865,000 people through 3 hospitals and 40 health centers in Rwanda’s poorest regions. 
  • CHAI has worked in Rwanda since 2002 to scale up HIV/AIDS care and treatment, contribute to health infrastructure, and promote economic development.
  • In Aug 2013, CHAI and the Government of Rwanda announced a program that will combat malnutrition through collaboration with food producers, development of local food processing industries, and increased income for small holder farmers.

However, Rwanda still experiences a significant lack of human resources — physicians, nurses, midwives, management officials. The WHO recommends a minimum level of 2.3 health care providers per 1,000 population; Rwanda has a density of 0.84 providers per 1,000 population. In an effort to strengthen the nation’s health workforce, the Government of Rwanda and CHAI invited 25 American institutions (16 academic medical centers, six nursing schools, one public health school, and two dental schools) to form a 7-year partnership known as the Human Resources for Health program.

Through this initiative, health professionals from the United States- dentists, doctors, nurses, management officials, and midwives – will partner with Rwandan health professionals to exchange knowledge and skills that will promote the ability of the Rwandan health force to sustainably and comprehensively address their nation’s health needs. Each year, approximately 100 health workers from the United States will “twin” with colleagues in Rwanda.

Human Resources for Health was announced in 2012, and I am extremely excited to monitor and watch this initiative grow. Rwanda has shown immense dedication to eventually breaking free of dependence on foreign aid, and this is evident through efforts to improve and sustain health infrastructure, medical education, and proper health outcomes.

For more information on the Human Resources for Health program, visit:

The Official HRH website

NEJM article detailing the program


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