When Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Minister of Health of the Republic of Rwanda, spoke to members of Dartmouth community recently, she began her talk, “Delivery Science and Capacity Building for Health: The Experience of Rwanda,” by reminding the audience that “we are all part of one community, the global health community” and asked them not to forget that “behind every statistic there is a human being.”
The responsibility of researchers to ensure that their research is used to improve people’s lives was a central theme of her August 24th talk, sponsored by The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. To illustrate her point, the Honorable Minister, known affectionately as Dr. Agnes, cited a recent op-ed in The New York Times, “Yes, We Were Warned About Ebola” (April 7, 2015), which was written by members of a team currently drafting Liberia’s Ebola recovery plan. In the article, the members of the team, which included Geisel alumnus Dr. Cameron Nutt ’11, stated they had been stunned to find in the course of their research that German virologists had analyzed frozen blood samples taken in 1978 and 1979 from 433 Liberian citizens and found that 26 (or 6 percent) had antibodies to the Ebola virus. In 1982, the German researchers published a paper on their findings in which they warned that medical personnel in Liberian health centers should be aware of the possibility that they may come across active cases in the future. Yet, no local (West African) researchers were involved, hence no capacity building, Dr. Agnes noted.
“The first lesson is to build on your history, and when you do things, transfer skills and make sure that the research you do builds capacity and saves lives,” said Dr. Agnes, who is an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine.