January 5, 2015

(Martinsville Bulletin;Tuesday, December 30, 2014)

A program based at the New College Institute (NCI) in Martinsville is helping improve the delivery of health care in a poor East African nation.


Rwanda native Ngenzi “Joseph” Lune recently earned a Certified Telehealth Coordinator certificate from the Southside Telehealth Training Academy and Resource Center (STAR) at NCI — without leaving that country.


STAR’s purpose, according to NCI Communications and Marketing Director Autumn Morris, is to provide health care providers the tools and knowledge to provide efficient remote care using video conferencing and at-home patient monitoring systems.


That way, people in remote rural areas can have access to specialty doctors and medical services without traveling, Morris said.


Lune is the coordinator of the Regional E-Health Center of Excellence at the University of Rwanda College of Medicine and Health Sciences. He serves as the information specialist and trainer for collaboration for evidence-based medicine in Africa throughout eight countries: Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. He also coordinates telehealth conferences between his college and the University of Virginia Health System’s Center for Telehealth, which cosponsors STAR with NCI.


Lune was 17 years old when Hutu soldiers attacked their Tutsi countrymen in 1994, killing more than 800,000 people. He has dedicated the years since then to making a difference, from a medical prospective, in his country.


Following the genocide, Lune studied at the University of Kwazulu Natal. He then visited the United States in 2010.


During that trip, he said, “I found telemedicine to be more than just theory, but a practical method to bring quality (health care) services to underserved areas.”


Lune said his dream is for the telehealth model to be “copied and pasted in Rwanda.” He said he thinks that, in the near future, the University of Rwanda College of Medicine and Health Sciences will start using telemedicine to offer remote clinical services to people living in Rwanda’s remote rural areas.


About 87 percent of Rwanda’s 9.7 million people live in rural areas. Roughly 65 percent of the nation’s rural residents are impoverished, according to the Rural Poverty Portal of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.


Lune said he will let managers and his work partners at the medical college know that he now is a certified telehealth coordinator.


“This will create confidence within our quality of services,” he said, “and by God’s grace, I will make sure that (the) skills, knowledge, and attitude (he) learned will be put into practice.”


U.Va. Telemedicine Systems Engineer Charles Lewis, who is a STAR graduate, said he has worked with Lune in Rwanda and seen firsthand “how he is the pivotal part of telehealth from the capital Kigali to countrywide.”


“I am proud to see the impact that the STAR telehealth program is having not only in our region, but across the world as people like Joseph seek to make a difference in remote patient care,” said Laurie Wardle, the program’s director. She is based at NCI.


STAR was launched in January and has since attracted 346 students, Morris said. Anyone interested in enrolling in the program may apply online at www.startelehealth.org or call Wardle at 403-5604.