Skip to main content

Weill Cornell partners with Touch Foundation and Sanford Weill to train doctors in Tanzania

It can be difficult to put into perspective the health-care crisis gripping Tanzania. There is no end to the statistics and demographics detailing the disease and poverty that ravage the country. Child mortality rates have jumped more than 25 percent since the 1990s. And in the past quarter-century, life expectancy has dropped by eight years.

In New York City, there is one doctor for every 198 people, compared with Tanzania, where is one doctor for every 29,143 people.

This deficit of qualified medical personnel remains the biggest obstacle Tanzania faces in its efforts to establish a stable, functioning health-care system to tend to its ailing population.

But that may not be the case in the near future.

Touch Foundation Inc., a public charity dedicated to training doctors, nurses and support staff who are committed to serving their local communities, is working to install a self-sustaining health-care infrastructure in Tanzania. The medical arm of that effort is being provided by NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College.

"This is not just another exchange of some doctors and nurses training 'x' number of doctors," said Touch executive director Jim Brasher. "This is a deep effort for systemwide change."

There are fewer than 1,000 doctors in Tanzania, and many Tanzanians -- both because of cultural biases and the distance to hospitals -- will never see a doctor in their lifetime. Malaria, hepatitis and AIDS are ravaging the adult population, while the infant mortality rate is more than 12 times that of the United States.

Through the Touch Foundation, Weill Cornell is striving to bring the best medical care possible to every Tanzanian in need. And the key lies in Weill Bugando, a complex that includes Bugando University College of Health Sciences -- which will graduate its first class of doctors next year -- and Bugando Medical Centre, a 900-bed tertiary care center and teaching hospital. Weill Bugando was named in recognition of the support and commitment made by Joan and Sanford Weill in February 2007.

"Seeing the facilities in Tanzania was eye-opening," Sanford Weill said when he visited the complex. "But the real important experience was meeting our residents and faculty there -- and seeing how they're helping to teach the Tanzanian students who are working to improve the delivery of medicine to their own people."

Weill Cornell's presence in Tanzania dates back to 2001, when Father Peter Le Jacq, M.D., a Weill Cornell graduate who had been assigned to Bugando Medical Centre as a doctor and priest, was asked by the Roman Catholic Church to help develop financial, educational and professional relationships in the United States for the benefit of Tanzania. About two years later, in large part because of the significant financial contributions of the Weills, Bugando Medical School opened.

"When I recently visited the hospital in Tanzania, every third patient had tuberculosis, AIDS or malaria," said Antonio M. Gotto Jr., dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. "Our residents and fellows who go there [to spend several weeks working with medical students] describe it as a life-transforming experience."

With Weill Cornell providing medical training and Touch -- through the help of the consulting firm McKinsey and Co. -- analyzing and addressing the practical needs of the medical school and hospital, a revamped Tanzanian health-care structure is taking root.

And each year, as more physicians graduate from Weill Bugando and more medical professionals integrate themselves into the local villages, Tanzania can begin to proudly stand on its own.

Joshua Hammann is a writer for the Weill Cornell Medical College.