Thursday, March 31, 2016

Undergrad Interns for Rwandan Health Minister

University of Vermont  University Communications


Sarriera and Binagwaho
Just before this photo was taken in March 2015, Gabriela Sarriera ’17 dared to ask Rwanda’s minister of health for a job or internship or some way to contribute to the global health leader’s work. One year later, she’s living in Kigali, helping Dr. Agnes Binagwaho research policy that affects equal access to healthcare. (Photos courtesy of Sarriera)

As one of six kids, Gabriela Sarriera '17 is practiced in the art of speaking up and asking for what she wants. So when the microbiology major heard the Rwandan minister of health deliver a moving talk at the Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale last year, she waited patiently in the long line after the keynote — not to ask for a photo as others had done — but to ask for a job.
“I want to know how can I help,” she remembers telling Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, a pediatrician who returned to her home country after the genocide and has helped recover a ravaged health system. Sarriera, who attended the conference as a member of UVM’s global health club, MedVida, also has plans to pursue medical school and become a pediatrician. But beyond just a career role model for Sarriera, Binagwaho is an inspiration.
The minister is the 2015 winner of the Roux Prize for her work to rebuild trust in the Rwandan health system and her contribution to initiatives that have increased the country’s life expectancy by 20 years, drastically dropped the maternal mortality rate, and, now that people are living longer, is expanding care for non-communicable diseases, as well. The Atlantic has called it a historic recovery — one the U.S. could learn from.
Sarriera promised the minister that if she accepted her help, she would find a way to get to Rwanda. FaceTiming from Kigali nearly 12 months after the Yale conference, Sarriera makes clear the gratitude she has for Binagwaho, who, amazingly, took a chance on the undergrad by offering her an internship, exposing her to work normally reserved for graduate students.

Healthcare for all

For three months now, Sarriera’s been immersed in learning the history of the Rwandan legal system. Why law when it’s medicine she wants to pursue? Her project expands on Binagwaho’s doctoral research, which uncovered troubling limits the colonial-influenced legal system puts on ensuring all citizens have the same access to healthcare. The path forward in the health sector means fully understanding policy that’s been shaped by a complex history.
Sarriera’s work began Christmas day with a flight to Europe, where the English minor began her internship with a document search, trying to trace the history of the book of laws that’s the basis for Rwanda’s legal system.