"Equity is in the Heart"

January 9, 2019 | Festival Boca

Dr. Agnes Binagwaho

Long before she served as health minister of Rwanda (2011-2016), Agnes Binagwaho tried to lock a fellow pediatrician in a hospital room. 

Dr. Agnes had spotted the doctor in an exam room with a mother who was cradling her sick daughter. The doctor was asleep.

Appalled, Binagwaho examined the girl herself in a separate room, then asked a nurse to lock the doctor in the exam room where he was sleeping. It did not win her any points with the medical staff, who “found me more guilty for trying to close him in that room for the night than him for mistreating the kid who could have died."

Dr. Agnes is a take no prisoners sort of doctor and activist. She was the leading force transforming Rwanda’s health care system, taking on the AIDS crisis there, and striving to see that even the poorest in the country had access to health care, relentlessly asserting that health — physical, mental and social — was a human right for all.

"Equity is in the heart," she says. "Meaning you always make sure to include everybody, leave nobody out."

Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder and chief strategist for Partners in Health (which delivers health services to poor countries, including some of Rwanda's most destitute villages), said that Dr. Agnes "is both doing the work and holding this utopian goal in mind." The two met at a U.N. General Assembly meeting on AIDS in 2001. Farmer was immediately impressed, he said, by "all her sassitude."

"When I was a little mouse, I tried to make as much noise as a lion," she says. "When I became stronger, I made less noise because the objective was to change. And sometimes to change, you better study and try to do it without screaming too much."

Today, Dr. Agnes is Vice Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity, which trains the next generations of health care workers to provide services in the poorest of communities.

She is also featured in the new documentary, Bending the Arc, which will be shown at Festival Boca on Saturday, March 2, at 4 pm. {You can also view the trailer of this remarkable film at the link above.}

Dr. Agnes will speak at the Festival Boca Authors & Ideas panel, Global Public Health Today and Tomorrow, on Monday, March 4, at 7 pm. She will be joined on the panel by Thomas Bollyky, who directed the first Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored Independent Task Force devoted to global health, and who has a forthcoming book, Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Felicia Knaul, Director, Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas and Professor, Miller School of Medicine. It will be introduced by Boca Regional Hospital CEO Jerry Fidele.

Boca Regional Hospital Foundation is the sponsor of both of these events.



(The anecdotes and quotes above are excerpted from an NPR story on Dr. Agnes. Read the full story here, and learn about her amazing personal story and achievements.)

© Festival of The Arts BOCA 2019

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