Global health and journalism: Meeting the Rwandan Minister of Health

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The author and the Honorable Minister of Health of Rwanda, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, stand in front of Rwandan flags hung in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in honor of the Honorable Minister’s visit to Boston.

 

When I first interviewed the Rwandan Minister of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, I had no idea that one phone conversation would take me to Boston, Hanover, New Hampshire and Washington, DC. A year ago, I was interviewing her for an entirely different story—one about a new exchange program between Harvard Medical School and the Rwandan Ministry of Health that helped train African professionals within the Ministry.

Since I’d studied global health as an undergraduate at Northwestern, I remember that first conversation as being incredibly interesting—I spoke with the Honorable Minister about why it was important for these kinds of exchanges to happen, and how it would help Africans rebuild their countries, which is one of the most sustainable ways to work towards global health goals. But this story wasn’t about her, and our conversation was mainly focused on the benefits of the program about which I was writing my story—not about the role she has played in helping achieve Rwanda’s extraordinary successes in global health after the country’s 1994 genocide.

Nearly a year later, while back at Northwestern pursuing my Master’s degree in journalism at Medill, I started thinking about the Honorable Minister again. After our first conversation, I’d looked at her blog and her Twitter feed, but when a fellow classmate began talking about a reporting trip that she was taking to South Africa over spring break, I revisited all those sites. It soon became very clear to me that I had a great story in front of me—a profile story of the Dr. Binagwaho. I contacted her team, and after many conversations, we decided that the best way for me to tell Dr. Agnes’ story would be to shadow her as she visited the United States to meet with her colleagues at Harvard and Dartmouth about partnerships between both schools and the Rwandan Ministry of Health and then traveled to Washington, DC, where she would be a keynote speaker at the annual Consortium of Universities for Global Health Conference.

As someone who minored in global health studies while an undergraduate at Northwestern, the trip was incredible. I was able to connect with some of the most innovative thinkers in global health, especially Dr. Agnes herself. In a world full of challenges for the global health community, I was awed to witness the optimism from everyone I met. From the initial days in Boston meeting faculty at Harvard and employees of Partners in Health to the final conference in Washington DC that was a meeting of healthcare professionals from around the globe, everyone seemed excited about the possibilities for global health, and I was constantly reminded of the famous Margaret Mead quote “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

After my trip I headed back home to Chicago where the real work begins. After spending a week with the Minister I had countless recordings of my interviews, her lectures and interviews with people who work with her. After organizing all of these recordings, I’m now working to freelance the story. It’s an exciting process and I can’t wait to see where it ends up!

 

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