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The Origins of University of Global Health Equity

In August 2013, Patricia Campbell, executive vice president of Tufts University, and John Morgan, D.D.S., an associate professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, traveled to Kigali, Rwanda to participate in an Oral Health Stakeholders Meeting. That session brought together several experts in the field of dentistry and health care delivery, including Dr. Peter Drobac of Partners In Health (PIH), and faculty from National University of Rwanda and Harvard University.

Also in attendance were Joyce and Bill Cummings, founders of Cummings Foundation, who had earlier offered to assist in building a dental clinic at an existing hospital in the rural Rwandan town of Butaro. Upon learning that a new medical school was being considered for the same location, Bill saw great promise. He suggested to the distinguished group of attendees that such an institution could and should instead be pan-African in scope, rather than just “for Rwanda.”

A few short months later, on October 4, Joyce and Bill emailed several interested parties at PIH and Tufts, as well as in Rwanda, with thoughts on what they then called Pan-African Colleges of Health Sciences, a school that would attract the best students from other African nations—and beyond—and help Rwanda fulfill its potential to become an economic and educational hub for Africa. That report was enthusiastically received, generating many responses like the ones below:

“What a great vision, and one that squares with the Rwandan vision of pulling people up by building a ‘knowledge’ economy while delivering care—and what better way to promote peace, justice, and development in the region.”
– Dr. Paul Farmer, PIH founder

“This will be transformative in ways we can’t yet even imagine.”
– Ophelia Dahl, chair of PIH’s board

Joyce and Bill’s overwhelmingly positive experiences in Rwanda, combined with their confidence in PIH’s ability to work with President Kagame’s administration to bring about meaningful change, prompted them, in 2014, to offer a $15 million matching funds grant from Cummings Foundation for this major new health sciences university. Then, acting on behalf of PIH, they were successful in soliciting the $15 million in matching funds from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other American donors to fully fund the first phase of what PIH has since incorporated in the United States as Universities of Global Health Equity. Phase I of University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Rwanda will fully open in rural Butaro in September 2018. In the meantime, courses leading to a master’s degree in Global Health Delivery began in Kigali and Rwinkwavu in September 2015.

Tufts University has been a key partner in the early stages of UGHE. Dr. Hellen Amuguni, a faculty member at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, played a leading role in incorporating One Health concepts into UGHE’s curriculum.