PIH Establishes Paul E. Farmer Scholarship Fund for University in Rwanda

$200M scholarship fund forms centerpiece of commitment toward medical education and research in Africa

Posted on Sep 19, 2022

scholarship announcement at Clinton Global Health Initiative
Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announces a $50 million gift to the Paul E. Farmer Scholarship on Sept. 19 at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, alongside University of Global Health Equity Vice Chancellor Dr. Agnes Binagwaho (left) and Partners In Health CEO Dr. Sheila Davis (right). Photo by Francesco De Flaviis/PIH

Partners In Health established a $200 million scholarship fund that will support University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) students in Rwanda for more than two decades, launched by a transformative $50 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that was announced on September 19 at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.

During a recent visit to UGHE’s rural campus, Melinda French Gates, the foundation’s co-chair, was inspired by students, including Eden Gatesi, an aspiring cardiothoracic surgeon. Gatesi knows the importance of quality health care; she overcame malaria during her high school finals, and her mother was a nurse who worked long hours in an understaffed clinic in their community.

“UGHE has what [Eden] needs to learn to be a cardiothoracic surgeon,” French Gates said. “What I know and what I saw is that [Paul Farmer] and Partners In Health and UGHE are building a lasting legacy on the continent. It’s for a generation of doctors who will train a generation of doctors who will train a generation of doctors. That’s what global health equity looks like.”

The scholarship fund is dedicated entirely to students attending UGHE in Rwanda. The fund, structured as an annuity, will cover the tuition, room, board, and expenses of 3,000 medical students and global health delivery master’s degree candidates over the next 25 years. The Gates Foundation is joined by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Child Relief International Foundation, and other philanthropists as early investors in the fund.

Named after the late Dr. Paul Farmer, Partners In Health’s (PIH) co-founder and chief strategist, the scholarship is dedicated to an initiative he cherished. Farmer cared deeply about UGHE and what it meant for training the next generation of global health professionals. He knew high-quality health care can only exist in tandem with high-quality medical education. This advancement of Farmer’s dream will ensure UGHE can continue to provide a top-tier health sciences education for students, who will become clinical leaders in their own right and go on to serve the most vulnerable in their communities.

“Turning early dreams of UGHE into reality has been intense and remarkable and deeply satisfying,” said Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, UGHE’s vice chancellor, who later participated in a panel discussion with French Gates, moderated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “Seeing our seventh cohort of master students in caps and gowns this summer was very exciting and knowing that, thanks in part to this fund, the university will continue for decades to graduate passionate, principled, world-class health leaders the world needs is even more exciting.”

History of University of Global Health Equity

UGHE is a PIH-led initiative which launched in 2015 with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Cummings Foundation, and the Government of Rwanda. The university is located in rural Burera District, about 80 miles north of Kigali, the country’s capital. Two miles down the road and perched on the opposite hillside is PIH-supported Butaro District Hospital, where UGHE students perform their clinical rotations. 

UGHE’s goal is to educate future health care providers and leaders who will ensure the delivery of more equitable, quality health services for all. To achieve this, UGHE provides equity-based medical training with a multidisciplinary approach to prepare students to work in vulnerable communities. The highly competitive programs—which have a 6% acceptance rate—include two degrees: a master’s in global health delivery (MGHD) and the MGHD combined with a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery (MBBS). Degree candidates come from 23 countries in Africa and around the globe, all receive need- and merit-based grants, and a majority of graduates are female. In 2025, the inaugural class of MBBS/MGHD students will graduate from the 6 1/2-year program. 

The Paul E. Farmer Scholarship Fund will help prepare UGHE students for lifetime learning, innovation, leadership, and research without worrying about the burden of financial barriers. UGHE’s innovative and equitable approach to health education is radically changing the way health care is delivered–in Africa and beyond.  

Before announcement of the fund, Didi Bertrand Farmer, who leads the Women & Girls Initiative and is Farmer’s widow, shared gratitude to the Clinton Global Initiative for honoring her husband and noted that UGHE students are continuing his dream of delivering high-quality health care everywhere to everyone who needs it.

Over the course of their years together, Bertrand Farmer said, “he often made impossible promises but always, always delivered on them.”

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