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This article is part of the supplement: Health innovation in sub-Saharan Africa

Open Access Research

Science-based health innovation in Rwanda: unlocking the potential of a late bloomer

Kenneth Simiyu1*, Abdallah S Daar1, Mike Hughes2 and Peter A Singer1

Author Affiliations

1 McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, at the University Health Network and University of Toronto, MaRS Centre, South Tower, Suite 406, 101 College Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1L7, Canada

2 Ministry of Education, Rwanda

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BMC International Health and Human Rights 2010, 10(Suppl 1):S3  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-10-S1-S3

Published: 13 December 2010

Abstract

Background

This paper describes and analyses Rwanda’s science-based health product ‘innovation system’, highlighting examples of indigenous innovation and good practice. We use an innovation systems framework, which takes into account the wide variety of stakeholders and knowledge flows contributing to the innovation process. The study takes into account the destruction of the country’s scientific infrastructure and human capital that occurred during the 1994 genocide, and describes government policy, research institutes and universities, the private sector, and NGOs that are involved in health product innovation in Rwanda.

Methods

Case study research methodology was used. Data were collected through reviews of academic literature and policy documents and through open-ended, face-to-face interviews with 38 people from across the science-based health innovation system. Data was collected over two visits to Rwanda between November – December 2007 and in May 2008. A workshop was held in Kigali on May 23rd and May 24th 2009 to validate the findings. A business plan was then developed to operationalize the findings.

Results and discussion

The results of the study show that Rwanda has strong government will to support health innovation both through its political leadership and through government policy documents. However, it has a very weak scientific base as most of its scientific infrastructure as well as human capital were destroyed during the 1994 genocide. The regulatory agency is weak and its nascent private sector is ill-equipped to drive health innovation. In addition, there are no linkages between the various actors in the country’s health innovation system i.e between research institutions, universities, the private sector, and government bureaucrats.

Conclusions

Despite the fact that the 1994 genocide destroyed most of the scientific infrastructure and human capital, the country has made remarkable progress towards developing its health innovation system, mainly due to political goodwill. The areas of greatest potential for Rwanda are in traditional plant technologies. However, there is need for investments in domestic skill development as well as infrastructure that will enhance innovation. Of foremost importance is the establishment of a platform to link the various actors in the health innovation system.