March Hero: Dr. Agnes Binagwaho

Caren Carlson

Posted on March 25 2014

This month, we’re highlighting an inspirational healthcare leader who is celebrated worldwide for radically improving Rwanda’s state of health after the genocide – Dr. Agnes Binagwaho. Two years after the tragedy, Dr. Binagwaho finished her medical training in Belgium and France and left a comfortable lifestyle to tackle the alarming health statistics in her home country.

“I saw more deaths in one week than I had seen in five years as a pediatrician in France. I nearly packed my bags to go back. There were no resources. Everyone was dying,” Dr. Binagwaho said during her first week back. Fortunately, she didn’t leave her wounded country. Under her leadership, Rwanda’s healthcare developments progressed quicker than anyone anticipated. Many successful health initiatives were implemented: improving access to care, forming a 45,000-person clinical services provider program, and creating other innovative programs that combat malnutrition and more, including the One Cow per Poor Family Program and Kitchen Garden Program.

Past welfare, Dr. Binagwaho is an active participant on global discussions about HIV/AIDS, population health, and family care. Her work is published in many medical journals and she sits on multiple world-changing boards. Her mission is to improve access to prevention, care, and treatment for HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer, breast cancer, and malaria, as well as promote education on how to combat them.


What makes Dr. Agnes Binagwaho a hero of the Rwandan Genocide?

After the ’94 genocide, Rwanda was a broken country and the Rwandan Government knew that in order to be sustainable, they needed to invest in healthcare and implement an effective plan to help its people. During the 100-day genocide, 1 million Rwandans perished, including many of the country’s medical professionals. An estimated quarter-million to half-a-million Rwandan women and girls were raped, leaving 70% of female Rwandan Genocide survivors HIV+. Many children were born from rape victims, creating a surge in population and poverty-stricken, widowed families.

The devastation was immense, but Rwanda persevered through these bleak statistics to welcome miraculous progress under Dr. Binagwaho’s leadership. Today, the number of those affected by HIV/AIDS has decreased tremendously to less than 3% of the population. The child mortality rate has been cut in half. Life expectancy has doubled. And the Rwandan Government is now taking action to ensure that their citizens are living longer, healthier lives by targeting diseases that often affect the elderly, such as cervical cancer and breast cancer. Rwanda even recently won a Malaria Control Award for maintaining at least 95% coverage of LLIN and IRS interventions that are important tools in malaria prevention. We applaud Dr. Binagwaho for leading this healthcare transformation in Rwanda. As the Rwandan Minister of Health, Dr. Binagwaho has played a pivotal role in rebuilding the country – a remarkable hero post-genocide.


About Dr. Agnes Binagwaho 
Dr. Binagwaho is a Rwandan pediatrician currently serving as the Rwandan Minister of Health. Prior to becoming Rwandan Minister of Health, she was the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health of Rwanda. Since 2009, Dr. Binagwaho has been a faculty member in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine in Harvard Medical School. She was appointed Clinical professor of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Darmouth College in 2012. Also, Dr. Binagwaho is a founding board member of the Tropical Institute of the Community Health and Development based in Kismu, Kenya. Dr. Binagwaho recently received an Honorary Doctor of Sciences from Darmouth College, and currently is pursuing her Ph.D. at the National University of Rwanda. 

Dr. Binagwaho's blog posts:
Tweet Dr. Binagwaho: @agnesbinagwaho
Dr. Binagwaho's vision: Minister's Vision
Read Dr. Binagwaho's publications: Harvard Medical School

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