The AfJEM blog
I have to say off the cuff that I was simply blown away by the local Rwandan faculty and the quality of this conference. In retrospect I do not know why I expected things to be different. I mean I knew most of the faculty, the journal has published a number of their papers and I have seen many of the trainees present elsewhere. I was really hoping it would be great, but worried that I’d be disappointed. The Rwandans easily exceeded expectations.
The Rwandan Emergency Care Association hosted their second annual conference early in May 2017. Rwanda is a small, landlocked country in central Africa and is still considered a low-income state by the World Bank. Despite its position on the map as well as on the GDP ladder, it couldn’t be more different than its neighbours. For instance, you’ll be hard pushed to find a motorcyclist without a helmet, or a person in public without shoes. The public spaces are neat and clean, and gardens are beautifully manicured. The philosophy I understand is about national pride. It was explained to me that Rwandans traditionally have a strong sense of national pride and that tidiness is considered an important local virtue. I guess the one enforces the other in a positive way: if one feels good about one’s environment, then one takes more pride in it, which in turn prompts one to take better care of it.
Driving through the streets of Kigali makes comparisons with the movie “Hotel Rwanda” challenging. As a nation, Rwandans appear to have moved on in a reconciliatory fashion from the genocide which foreigners (including me) still associate the country with. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Coming from a nation with deep wounds from past atrocities itself (South Africa), it was my observation that Rwandans actively chose to not allow that terrible event to define them, but to rather grow from the divisions that caused it and move forward – something I am not convinced South Africa has yet done.
The conference couldn’t mirror this growth enough. The Rwandan Emergency Care Association presented a well-rounded plenary including academia, clinical and local content. The real innovative feature of the conference was the way in which it was funded. No Supadel was required here as it was all hands on deck for the local faculty for hosting the now established Emergency Medicine in the Tropics workshop in the two weeks running up to the conference. Aimed at International delegates the Emergency Medicine in the Tropics workshop provided attendees with a unique perspective of delivering emergency care in a low income country with a high infectious disease and injury burden, whilst at the same time funding both the workshop and the conference. Sadly I was unable to experience the workshop but was able to contribute to some triage training on the last day (I still think I walked away with more lessons learned than the delegates in the class). International faculty perfectly complimented presentations by local faculty and trainees, the latter whom exuded a brave confidence often lacking in African delegates at conferences. I got the impression that the confidence and pride I observed on the streets of Kigali mirrored the confidence and pride in the classroom.
Kudos goes to the expat-faculty who clearly embodies one of the more challenging aspects of global health collaboration – making oneself obsolete. Global health is an interesting career choice; to actively follow a path that requires one to work towards diminishing one’s involvement is a selfless sacrifice. However, the selfless contribution of these expats does not go in vain. It resulted in the development of a strong academic programme that from what I have seen are rapidly progressing towards holding its own on an international stage.
It was with an immense sense of pride that I posted the image below on twitter. It was one of those you-had-to-be-there moments – I felt the strongest sense of fulfilment overwhelm me just looking at the trainees with their faculty. I will definitely not miss the 2018 African conference on emergency care next year and neither should you. And for those who have not realised yet, it’ll be in Kigali. With this amazing group of people as our hosts. I wish it was 2018 already.
The African Journal of Emergency Medicine will be publishing the winning abstracts from the scientific sessions of the conference with pride in our September issue.