December 7, 2015: Dr. Richard Hart, president of Loma Linda University, announced last week plans to begin a medical school at the Adventist University of Central Africa (AUCA) in Rwanda. Together with Jerry Daly from LLU’s Global Health Institute, Hart was in Africa at the request of Pastor Hesron Byilingiro, president of the denomination’s Rwanda Union Conference, and Dr. Ndahayo Claver, vice rector for academics at the Adventist university there.
This will be the sixth medical school that LLU has helped Adventist universities start over the years. First, Universidad de Montemorelos in northern Mexico, an hour and a half drive south of Monterrey, started a medical school some 40 years ago. Then came Universidad Adventista del Plata in the farmland of Argentina, which began its school of medicine around 20 years ago. Both of these schools are now mature and graduating physicians.
For many years, other countries were discouraged from starting new medical schools due to the costs and difficulty in finding qualified faculty for both the basic sciences and clinical instruction. More recently a number of countries are responding to local needs for health care. Babcock University, an hour out of Lagos, Nigeria, started its medical school about three years ago. Universidad Peruana Union in Nana, outside of Lima, began one two years ago. The Adventist University of the Philippines, in the hills outside of Manila, opened its school of medicine this past August. They all have students on board and are working to produce quality professionals. Several other countries are also planning new medical schools.
There are two foundations from which medical schools usually start. Some come from existing universities that want to expand their academic offerings. Usually they have other health science programs already in place, such as nursing. The other option is a hospital that wants to start a school of medicine. These institutions understand the medical model and have the clinical faculty already on board, but they need to develop the academic structure.
Places without a hospital must search out appropriate clinical facilities and recruit a faculty committed to education. They occasionally use a government hospital, where quality is often stretched by large patient volume. Motivating and reimbursing busy physicians to engage in time-consuming mentoring of students can also be difficult. Both Babcock University and Adventist University of the Philippines are faced with this challenge. Universidad Peruana Union is using the expanded Good Hope Clinic, a flourishing hospital in Miraflores, Lima, for most of its training.
Now AUCA has been approved to plan for a new medical school. This institution has quite a history, beginning with the recognition that the Adventist Church needed a French-speaking university to serve the many French-language countries throughout Africa. It was organized as Universite Adventiste d’Afrique Centrale in 1978, in Rwanda, at a place called Mudende. The university officially opened its doors in October 1984 and was chartered by the Republic of Rwanda in 1988.
It had a beautiful campus in the rolling countryside, in a country where about 12 percent of the total population identify themselves as Adventists. But then came 1994, with the most horrific genocide of the last quarter century. Mudende became the site of a horrific massacre of both students and faculty. The green fields of Rwanda ran red with blood. Nearly 1 million Rwandese were murdered, almost 10 percent of the entire population.
With the university’s faculty and leadership gone, the church in Rwanda had no heart to start again in Mudende. Healing had to take place before a decision was made to reestablish AUCA again, this time in the capital city, Kigali. By then the country had undergone the difficult task of reconciliation and had started on the long road to development once again, including a major transition from French to English as the language of choice. People were encouraged to think of themselves as Rwandese, not Hutus or Tutsis, as the tribal barriers began to fade.
A small parcel of land was initially obtained in Kigali, and AUCA reopened in old rundown buildings in 1996. Students started coming, confidence was regained, and the dream of a new campus started. The government made available a large piece of land on the hills overlooking the city. The country itself was riding an economic wave of growth brought by stable national politics and solid fiscal management, resulting in considerable donor assistance and a renewed sense of optimism.
In this climate, the Adventist denomination started an ambitious development program for AUCA on the new land. Drs. Angie and Dominic Pagarigan from the Philippines were asked to join AUCA, Angie as vice rector for finance and Dominic to oversee the design and construction of new buildings. A major academic and administration facility was completed in 2007, followed by a large auditorium seating 1,800 where the campus church meets. This became the Masoro campus of AUCA.
The Rwandan government encouraged AUCA to develop additional programs. A bachelor’s-level nursing program was begun at Mugonero Hospital, now called the Ngoma campus of AUCA.
There are three divisions of the Adventist denomination in sub-Saharan Africa, named geographically West-Central Africa, Southern Africa-Indian Ocean and East-Central Africa. They have a collective church membership of 6.7 million in a population of around 900 million, making up about one percent.
The government has offered AUCA clinical training sites at the busy provincial hospital in Ruhengeri, close to both the Uganda and Congo borders, which has 15 deliveries a day in the maternity unit, “but it is in the public sector, with little opportunity to create our own culture,” Hart observed.
Kigali is being called “the Singapore of Africa” due to its clean streets, lack of beggars, manicured landscaping, new buildings and generally bustling economy. Hart and others Adventist representatives met with both the minister of health, “a young, engaging neonatologist trained in Europe,” and the minister of education, who has a PhD in economics. Hand-picked by Rwandan President Paul Kagame to help pursue his dreams of rapid development, “they epitomize the welcome spirit of collaboration that one finds everywhere in Rwanda now,” Hart said.
So the political doors are wide open, with beautiful space available on the large new Masoro campus for academic buildings, dormitories, a hospital and clinics. “All we need is funding and the right people,” Hart observed. AUCA is currently searching for a new president and also a founding dean for the nursing school. Dr. Ken Vicente from Universidad Adventista del Plata has agreed to become the founding dean for the medical school.
Several key decisions have already been made, Hart reported. The school needs to be seen as a regional, not a national entity, serving all of east, central and southern Africa. It needs its own teaching hospital to create the professionalism, compassion and skills that it should be known for. It should emphasize the recruitment of young women into medicine and “we should not be hesitant about making this an Adventist faith-based institution, with all that this means.” Rwanda is 95 percent Christian.