Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mondays with the Minister #3: Malnutrition in Rwanda

On Monday 12 December 2011, I hosted the third consecutive “Mondays with the Minister” Twitter chat on the topic of malnutrition in Rwanda. For the first time, SMS was used in addition to Twitter. I recently partnered with a local company, Nyaruka, to integrate SMS into the bi-weekly discussions. Nyaruka moved fast to design a superb web platform where I can receive, respond to, and publicly display SMS messages. During this first Twitter/SMS Mondays with the Minister, approximately 40 people participated on Twitter, asking questions from across Rwanda and other countries in the region. Students and researchers interested in global health also joined from Europe and North America. 

We will be improving the publicity on the SMS portion of the discussion in coming weeks. Radio announcements and a Ministry of Health press release will help to publicize it more widely for future chats, allowing Rwandans across the country to contribute questions or comments about the chosen topic in the language of their choice (Kinyarwanda, English, or French) during the time frame of the discussion. Five total questions were contributed by SMS in English and Kinyarwanda this past Monday, and I look forward to seeing many more in future weeks.

This week’s discussion on malnutrition in Rwanda touched on current chronic malnutrition and anemia statistics in Rwanda, which remain very high. We discussed the state of the Ministry of Health’s response to malnutrition, and many Rwandans were interested in behavioral change communication efforts underway to promote balanced diets in addition to structural anti-poverty interventions (such as One Cow per Family, kitchen gardens, milk for students at school, and ubudehe) that seek to combat food insecurity at the community level. Others were interested in institutional collaborations to address malnutrition, public-private partnerships in Government programs, the linkages between nutrition and care for chronic diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, oversight of UNHCR refugee camps, and the prevention of obesity as Rwanda’s economic growth continues. I asked what participants thought was the weakest part of the Ministry of Health’s response, and this led to an exchange about meeting the needs of vulnerable youth – particularly “street kids.”

All in all, the discussion was very interesting and informative for me as Minister of Health. As is the case with Rwanda’s Umushyikirano (National Day of Dialogue), it is so important for Rwandans to be able to communicate with their Government. In the Ministry of Health and throughout the central Government, we strive for transparency, accountability, and accessibility.

I’d like to thank again Nyaruka’s staff, especially Nic, Eugene, and Eric, for their hard work on creating this new platform. I appreciate this partnership and highly recommend them for other ICT for health initiatives. For all those interested, you can visit their company’s website at

My next “Mondays with the Minister” discussion on Twitter and SMS will be held on 9 January 2012 (time TBD). The topic will be vaccinations, and we will discuss the impact, delivery, and sustainability of vaccines in Rwanda. As a reminder, you can follow the discussion through my Twitter account @agnesbinagwaho and by searching for #MinisterMondays. You can also send a question or comment in Kinyarwanda, English, or French by SMS to 0788 38 66 55. SMS questions and my answers can be viewed online at I greatly look forward to our next discussion.