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Help for the People of Rwanda

November 7, 2007

Fran Simon

Following a civil war and mass killing of hundreds of thousands in Rwanda, Tulane University faculty members have been helping the Rwandan people make strides in regaining their health.


The health and psychological needs of orphans remain a challenge in Rwanda. (Photo by Ron Marks)

“Rwanda is one of the miracle stories in international development,” says Nancy Mock, a disaster management expert and associate professor of international health and development in the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Mock is also interim executive director of the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women.

According to Mock, Tulane was one of the first American universities to establish a major presence in Rwanda after the country stabilized in the mid 1990s.

Mock returned from a trip to Rwanda in October feeling optimistic about the future of the country. She expects to see major positive impact on morbidity and mortality in the next few years.

Mock has worked on health and development issues affecting women and children for more than 25 years. Rwanda is ranked No. 1 in the world for an important indicator of gender equity: it has the highest percentage of female parliamentarians of any country.


On a visit to Rwanda in October, Nancy Mock, second from right, meets with the country’s president Paul Kagame, third from right, and ministers of health, education and agriculture. Kagame plans a spring visit to Tulane. (Photo provided by Nancy Mock)

In 2001, Rwanda opened a public health school with assistance from the Payson Center for International Development and Technology Development at Tulane, the School of Public Health and a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, of which Mock is the principal investigator.

Laura Haas, co-principal investigator, also is an Africanist. Tulane researchers also lead other projects that address malaria, childhood killers including respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases, perinatal issues, maternal health and nutrition.

While continuing to provide support to the burgeoning public health school of Rwanda, Tulane faculty members work with the country’s government, private voluntary organizations, international organizations and local partners.

Ron Marks, dean of the Tulane School of Social Work, traveled with Mock to Rwanda to discuss ways to train professionals to address the psychological and social needs of Rwanda, where orphans remain an important issue.

“There currently is no master of social work program in the country,” Marks says, “and the needs are vast. Social work is not yet developed as a profession in Rwanda.”

Marks says Rwandan people are testifying in community-based courts about the genocide, and they are being re-traumatized.

“Virtually everybody in the country has been impacted — either members of their family were killed or participated in the killing,” notes Marks.

The Tulane delegation met with Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, governmental officials and university representatives. Kagame, who shows a strong interest in making Rwanda a model of development for Africa, plans to visit Tulane during the spring semester.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000