On the 18th of May 2024, the NIHR GSU Rwanda Hub, supported by the Rwanda Ministry of Health, Rwanda Surgical Society (RSS), Operation Smile, Medical Military Insurance Rwanda, Pyramid Pharma, Ejo Heza Surgical Center, and Lifebox, held a pivotal Scientific Conference at Lemigo Hotel, Kigali. This event marked the culmination of a week-long surgical outreach program and was centred around the theme: “Community Engagement and Involvement: A Walk Towards Sustainable Surgical Ecosystem.”

The conference opened with an address by Professor Faustin Ntirenganya, the Hub Director, who provided an overview of the surgical outreach activities conducted in honour of Kwibuka 30, commemorating the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. This initiative was a significant community engagement effort by the RSS to bridge the gaps in surgical care across Rwanda. He then introduced Dr. Corneille Ntihabose, the Head of Clinical and Public Health Services at the Ministry of Health, who officially inaugurated the conference.

Dr Ntihabose commended the RSS for their remarkable efforts and emphasised the critical need for enhanced surgical care in Rwanda. He outlined the Ministry’s recent reforms, which included the expansion of public hospitals with surgical theatres, procurement of advanced medical equipment, and the improvement of surgical procedures’ valuation by various medical insurance schemes. He reaffirmed the Ministry’s commitment to ongoing collaboration with the RSS to facilitate nationwide surgical outreach initiatives.

Mr. Emmanuel Munyaneza, the National Coordinator for Community Engagement and Involvement (CEI), emphasised the crucial role of community involvement in healthcare initiatives. He explained that CEI ensures patients and the broader community are active participants in healthcare research, not just data sources. Munyaneza highlighted successful CEI projects, including Project REACH (REsources for surgical cAre training of Community Health workers), which trains community health workers on post-surgical care and surgical site monitoring using locally developed teaching materials. He introduced the Rwanda National CEI steering committee, composed of selected community members from various GSU Rwanda research sites. This committee oversees and advises the research team on best practices for engaging with the community in their research.

A series of panel discussions followed, focusing on collaboration with professional bodies. Dr Ntihabose noted the positive impact of surgical outreaches on reducing surgical case backlogs but stressed the need for better organisation. Prof. Ntirenganya emphasised the empowerment of professional bodies and the establishment of a coordination system for efficient collaboration. Mrs. Viviane Umutesi- a community member and co-chair of the National CEI steering committee, underscored the importance of a unified understanding among stakeholders and the decentralisation of surgical care to the grassroots.

Mr Munyaneza concluded the discussions by highlighting the distinctions between participation, engagement, and involvement, stressing the need for genuine involvement in surgical decision-making processes. “Community members should always be present at the table where decisions are being made,” he insisted.