March 22, 2023

Second Rwanda delegation visits UMMS ahead of renal transplant program launch

A UMMS collaboration to help Rwanda introduce the country’s first renal transplant program is moving ahead, with doctors on track to perform the first procedures later this spring.

A team of King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, anesthesiologists and nurses led by Dr. Gaston Nyirigira (center) spent a week at Michigan Medicine.

Michigan Medicine welcomed a small delegation from Kigali’s King Faisal Hospital this month—the second group since October—to tour facilities, meet with counterparts and observe procedures. The group included both OR nurses and anesthesiologists from King Faisal.

“The important thing is to expose ourselves to how things are organized, how teams communicate,” said Gaston Nyirigira, head of Anesthesiology and Critical Care services at King Faisal. “We learned a lot here, talking to people who have been really supportive and helpful. They share their knowledge, and we make sure we are contextualizing those insights for our system back home.”

During their week in Ann Arbor, Nyirigira and his colleagues were able to meet with surgeons, nephrologists, nurses, social workers, pharmacists and others involved in care before, during and after transplant surgery. They were able to observe surgical procedures for organ recipients and donors.

“It helped me to imagine how to begin and where to focus in such cases,” said Roda Uwayesu, King Faisal Operating Theater Unit Manager. “Making a decision to give a kidney is really a special thing, so as personnel involved in that procedure, it is our job to make sure that patient and that process is safe.”

King Faisal Hospital has already established its dedicated renal transplant unit. The required laboratory equipment and pharmaceuticals have been procured, and patient selection for the first procedures is well under way.

The partnership in Rwanda follows a similar collaboration in Ethiopia, where UMMS teams helped introduce the country’s first renal transplant program in 2015. UMMS surgeons performed operations together with colleagues at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, in Addis Ababa, to teach the procedures. Likewise, U-M Health System nurses, social workers and nephrologists worked alongside their Ethiopian counterparts to develop other critical aspects of the program, which by 2020 was being run independently at St. Paul’s without outside help.

The program model in Rwanda will be similar, with Michigan Medicine physicians and staff traveling to Kigali to assist with the initial procedures.

“I am extremely pleased that the model we established in Ethiopia appears to be on the cusp of success in Rwanda. They are hoping to have the first procedures in May, and I am optimistic given the progress to date,” said Professor of Surgery Jeffrey Punch, who led the transplant partnership in Ethiopia. “I plan to be there to scrub in and teach the operation, letting them do as much as they technically are able to do.”