Fulfilling a dream

As a young boy, David Cechetto,BSc’74,B.Ed’78,PhD,’84, was fascinated with the missionaries who attended his church. Their stories intrigued and inspired him to follow a path that would ultimately take him around the world.

Professor Cechetto has spent almost two decades working on various international development programs in Rwanda as a way of helping to improve the health of its citizens.  

Speaking about the driving force behind his passion, Cechetto said, “I realized that we have so much over here in Canada, and we should share our knowledge and expertise so that the world can be a more equal place.”

Acting on his interests early on in his career, Cechetto moved to Lagos, Nigeria after completing his master’s degree to teach neuroanatomy and neurophysiology to medical students at the Lagos University Medical School.

Years later, as an anatomy professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, he returned to Africa, specifically Rwanda, to foster an international relationship between Western University and the National University of Rwanda (NUR). As a result of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, NUR required and sought the expertise of Western to acquire new resources and faculty for their medicine program.

“When I first arrived in Rwanda I realized there was a real need to establish strong training programs,” said Cechetto. “These programs, like nursing and medicine, had been quite disrupted by the 1994 war. There was also a need to coordinate between groups and work together to build and execute health-focused solutions.”

Since becoming involved in Rwanda, Cechetto has assisted with developing a nursing program with the Kigali Health Institute, strengthening NUR’s Faculty of Medicine, reorganizing Rwandan health education, preparing assessments of health care in Rwanda for government agencies and creating new maternal, newborn and child health-focused initiatives.

For his most recent project centred on maternal, newborn and child health, Cechetto has received approximately $8.9 million in federal funding to continue training, supporting and creating greater access to services pertaining to this field of care in Rwanda. Cechetto hopes to develop a new model for maternal, newborn and child mortality so as to reduce mortality rates for this group.

The ultimate goal is that with a new model available the Rwandan team members will implement the new teachings they’ve learned and create a long-term impact on the regions they are working in.

Cechetto says one of the most rewarding parts about working on these international development projects is the great people he encounters and the life-long relationships he has built in Rwanda.

“We work as teams, with team members in both Canada and Rwanda, and through this network I’ve developed a large number of friends. It’s a real privilege to be able to build these types of relationship,” he said.

As for his next steps, Cechetto would like to get young people involved in the work he is completing in Rwanda to help the country reach its goals and continue with the initiatives he and other team members, have helped to establish.