After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, many wrote the country off as a lost cause when it came to public health. Up to one million people had perished, and millions more were displaced. Hospitals and clinics lay in shambles. Most health workers had been killed or had fled. Widespread rape disseminated HIV, and a massive cholera epidemic swept refugee camps. Fewer than one in four children were vaccinated against measles and polio. Rwanda was the poorest country in the world, with the highest child mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy anywhere.
Twenty years later, Rwanda’s rapid recovery has been nothing short of historic. Life expectancy has doubled. Child mortality has fallen by more than two-thirds since 2000. In the past decade, death rates from AIDS and tuberculosis have declined at record speed. Vaccination rates for many diseases surpass those reported in the United States. And Rwanda is on track to become the first African country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for health.
“In the aftermath of one of the worst spasms of mass violence in recorded history, few imagined that Rwanda might one day serve as a model for other nations committed to health equity,” writes Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard Medical School professor and co-founder of Partners In Health, in a study published in The Lancet on Friday.
Farmer, known internationally for his work to improve health care for the poor and marginalized, says it’s the most dramatic turnaround he’s ever seen.
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