Jean-Claude and the global research divide

March 21, 2008 at 10:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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RwandaI am writing from Rwanda so communication for development is taking on its true meaning.  The first thing I did after recovering from jetlag was trying to log on to the Internet. When I finally gave up on my laptop and asked for the public computer, Christopher asked me, (insert French accent) “but I am IT, why did you not ask us, we are here to help you?”  

Thank god for him— the horror of a week without Internet was too much to bear.  But it got me thinking about why someone with advanced IT skills is on the small staff of this guest house.  He is vital for business from all the muzungus who stay at the hotel.  Cost for wireless is about $8 a day.  

But I am not the only young person for whom online access is critical to where I stay.  I had a long talk with Jean-Claude today, a sixth-year medical student from Butare.   After he finishes his medical degree, he is required by the government to work in a rural hospital.  While this sounds good on paper, the young doctors are not compensated for the hardship they take on.  Beyond having to practice in a rudementary clinic, living in the rural area actually presents a is a higher cost of living.  

“There is no way I am going to live somewhere without access to the Internet,” says Jean-Claude, who thinks that sending doctors to rural areas is key, but that their must be an incentive so that they will want to go.   For instance, there is a hospital in the Eastern province funded by the Clinton Foundation.  Despite its remoteness, doctors are lining up to go because of top-notch facilities and a decent wage.

Jean-Claude is now doing his final research to complete his degree. He will focus on malnutrition of children of HIV+ mothers.  Even if a child does not have HIV, she or he still faces enormous risks because she will not be fed breast milk after the age of 6 months for fear of mother-to-child transmission.  And poor mothers cannot afford to feed thier infants formula or cow milk alternatives.  

His is important research, but like every other medical student at his university, he has only $200 for the year-long study.   In Rwanda, transportation is expensive, so this won’t buy him many trips to interview the people he needs to reach, let alone pay for any tests he needs to conduct.   As a result of, he says many medical students make up their final research data.

After he spends two years serving in a rural hospital, Jean-Claude wants to study medicine abroad; he is desperate to learn from specialized pracitioners and use high-tech medical equipment.  It got me wondering how medical research can be supported in developing world.  As just one student with one professor as an adviser, he has no capacity or even expertise to qualify for a grant from the Clintons or the Gates of the world.  At most Western universities money for research is just a few phone calls away.  As an energetic, compassionate and inquiring young man who speaks three languages, Jean-Claude is a huge asset to his country.  He should be invested in, but how?

This is the global research divide.       


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