December 22, 2022

New partnership in Rwanda explores kidney transplant, nephrology programs

A new UMMS collaboration aims to help Rwandans launch a comprehensive kidney transplant program, the country’s first.

Members of the Rwanda delegation and Michigan Medicine collaborators in Ann Arbor in November. 

A delegation from the East African nation visited Ann Arbor recently to tour facilities and meet with leaders in nephrology and surgery. Among them was Patrick Ndimubanzi, Rwanda’s Executive Secretary of Human Resources for Health.

“We had a wonderful visit and are really looking forward to successful partnership,” Ndimubanzi said. “Like many other countries, Rwanda is facing an epidemiological transition. There are more and more patients with end-stage renal disease who need a transplant.”

Ndimubanzi, along with colleagues from King Faisal Hospital, in Kigali, where the new transplant center will be based, visited Michigan Medicine in October. The following month, leaders from UMMS visited Rwanda and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cement the new partnership, which will patterned after a similar kidney transplant program U-M helped establish in Ethiopia.

“Our goal is to essentially replicate and build on the model that we did in Ethiopia, understanding that Rwanda’s needs are slightly different,” said UMMS Nephrology Division Chief Subramaniam Pennathur, MD. “Improving health and kidney health globally is a big part of our mission. A transplant program would have a real and lasting impact for the country, just as it has in Ethiopia.”

In Ethiopia, U-M teams trained Ethiopian physicians and surgeons and helped to create a nephrology fellowship program at St. Paul’s Millennium Medical College, in Addis Ababa.

That partnership began in 2013, with the first transplants taking place in 2015. Three years after that, the program was fully self-sustaining, with Ethiopian doctors performing surgery on their own, provide pre- and post-transplant nephrology care and teaching the next round of fellows as well. Their documented outcomes have been comparable to those in US and European hospitals.

Many of the same UMMS faculty members responsible for that success are now engaged in Rwanda, including nephrologists Panduranga Rao,  Alan Leichtman, Patrick Gipson and surgeon Jeffrey Punch. In Rwanda, Pennathur hopes to engage UMMS fellows as well.

“I feel it is a very good opportunity for our trainees, particularly our senior fellows, to get engaged,” Pennathur said. “With a presence in Ethiopia and now Rwanda, there will be research opportunities down road. And the chance to potentially visit in person and understand how medicine is practiced in another part of the world is important. From my own experience, that perspective can make you a better provider, regardless of where you practice.”