Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Kigali and Gisenyi

Will with people we met on the road

Will with people we met along the roadside

Today was a very good day.

We did several things to get settled ? changed money, got cheap cell phones, got our passes for the mountain gorilla tour (which we will do in a couple of days).

Then we went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It tells the incredible story of the 1994 genocide in very effective and moving terms. It is really impossible to do it justice in a short blog posting, but this country has been through horrific trauma, and is now making amazing progress in reconciliation and development.

Then we drove almost three hours to Gisenyi, which is on the shores of Lake Kivu, a huge, beautiful lake. There are a number of resort hotels there, and we went to a very nice one, and had a late lunch. It was magnificent — we sat overlooking the lake as we ate.

We are now in Musanze, where we will spend the next two nights. The town used to be called Ruhengeri.

Our day starts tomorrow with the early English service at the Anglican Cathedral, and then we will spend the rest of the day relaxing. The guesthouse has a pool and the weather here is great.

Then we set out early on Monday to see the gorillas.

Arrived in Rwanda

On the way here via Brussels, we got to spend an unplanned extra day in Belgium. Our plane flight was cancelled, and we had to wait a day for it to go.

Everyone was very kind to us ? they put us up in a hotel at the Brussels Airport, and served us great food.

We got to visit with several of our fellow pilgrims to Rwanda ? a couple from Little Rock on their way to visit their daughter who is working for an non-profit group in Rwanda, three college students who are going there to do volunteer work with another group for several weeks, a lady going home to Congo (she lives a five hour bus ride from Kigali, Rwanda), and an AIDS researcher who works in Rwanda. It turns out we know lots of people in common.

We arrived after dark this evening ? so have not yet seen much, but it is clearly hilly. After all, Rwanda is known as the Land of a Thousand Hills.
Tomorrow we visit the main genocide memorial and then leave the capital city to visit some of the outlying areas.

En route to Rwanda

Greetings from Brussels ? our son, Will, and I are on our way to Rwanda for a long-planned visit.

This will be the fourth of our international visits together, in which we combine our interest in global health with an effort to learn more about the world ? especially those parts which are far away from Chapel Hill.

Will Roper in the Brussels Airport

Will Roper in the Brussels Airport

In 2007, Will and I went to South Africa, Malawi and Zambia. We focused especially on the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease work that has long been done in Malawi. We learned a lot, and Will got to work in an AIDS orphanage.

In 2008, he and I went to China, where we again met with UNC collaborators, particularly in the China CDC. And we got to take in some of the Beijing Olympics!

In 2009, Will and I went to Peru, with Drs. Luis Diaz and Doug Morgan, and we saw first-hand the work that they and colleagues are doing to advance our understanding of health and disease. This has direct relevance to our efforts in Latino Health in North Carolina. And we got to see Machu Picchu too!

This year it's Rwanda ? a small country in east central Africa ? with a troubled past, but an exciting present and future. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda is a major part of the history of the country, and we will be visiting genocide memorials and learning of the horror of what happened 16 years ago.

But we will also be learning of the widespread reconciliation work that seems to be bearing much fruit, and the rapid development of the country and its economy.

UNC does not yet have global health work in Rwanda, but I will be visiting with leaders in the Ministry of Health, and in the hospitals and medical school. I look forward to learning much about what others are doing in Rwanda, and to thinking about the further opportunities.

In addition, our church in Chapel Hill has a partnership with the Anglican Church in Rwanda, and our sister parish is St. Paul's Cathedral in Butare, Rwanda. I will be visiting with church leaders there and elsewhere in Rwanda.

All in all, we have much to learn and experience. It promises to be a great trip!

Much more to come.

UNC Health Care partners with Habitat for Humanity

A few days ago I had a great experience ? I got to hammer a bunch of nails at a house we are helping to build for one of our co-workers. This is part of a Habitat for Humanity effort here in Chapel Hill.

The home will be owned by UNC Health Care employee Felicia Weaver. By the time the home is completed, Felicia will have given more than 300 hours of her sweat equity to the construction of this home and others like it.

UNC Health Care is sponsoring the home's construction as part of its Commitment to Communities program. Launched during the summer of 2009, Commitment to Communities is designed to enhance and expand our outreach to our communities both local and statewide.

More than 300 of our employees have volunteered to work on the construction site and hundreds more have purchased T-shirts to support the project.

Construction began on the home in early March and should be completed in mid-June.

I came away from our time of working together with a great feeling of contribution and satisfaction ? and just as importantly, I didn't fall off the roof!

Take a look at these pictures —

The house will be a part of Phoenix Place, a subdivision of 50 green-certified homes within the Rogers Road community in Chapel Hill. Phase 1 of the construction will include 17 houses, 14 of which will be owned by UNC or UNC Health Care employees.

Preventing Childhood Obesity


This week I have had some unique opportunities ? related to the growing efforts to do something about the epidemic of childhood obesity in our nation.

I have been asked to be one of the nine members of the inaugural board of directors of a new organization ? the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA, We had our first board meeting this week in Washington, DC.

This new group is designed to be a non-partisan, private sector effort to catalyze work that is underway across many public and private organizations. One of the partners we will be working with is the First Lady, Michelle Obama.

First Lady Michelle Obama, courtesy White House

First Lady Michelle Obama, courtesy White House

The First Lady is the Honorary Chair of PHA, and the Honorary Vice-Chairs are former Senator Bill Frist (a Republican) and current Newark Mayor Cory Booker (a Democrat).

PHA intends to work closely with the First Lady's initiative, Let's Move!

While we were in DC this week, the PHA Board met for almost an hour with the First Lady and her key staff.

It is clear that she is deeply involved with and passionately committed to this initiative. She talked about what it means to her ? not only as first lady, but as a mother of two young daughters.

I was really impressed by Michelle Obama. Her grace, poise, intellect and beauty were striking.

What was also striking ? as I have told others afterwards ? is how tall she is! Coach Hatchell would have been glad to have her on the team!

There is surely lots more work for many people and organizations to do to turn around the epidemic of childhood obesity ? but I was pleased to have these inspiring experiences this week.

Stay tuned!

More on health care reform legislation

Now that health care reform legislation has passed we’re not finished talking about it, and I think that’s a good thing. As I said last week, we need to keep moving forward.

Last week, Sarah Avery, the medical reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer spent a day in UNC Hospitals talking with a variety of people, including patients, staff, Dr. Chuck Cairns and myself. Her goal was to capture what people really thought about health care reform legislation the day after President Obama signed it into law. She interviewed people on each side of the issue, those who were for it and those who oppose it.

Ms. Avery’s excellent story ran in Sunday’s newspaper. You can read it here.

Just today the News & Observer ran this editorial.

NC Policy Watch posted this video interview with Adam Searing on its Web site on Monday.

And, finally, we videotaped this interview, in which I expand on some of my previous comments.

Health Reform ? hurray

This week will long be remembered as a momentous time in American health policy and politics.

President Obama signed the landmark health reform legislation and the Senate seems poised to complete the complicated process with passage of a reconciliation bill making a number of changes in the earlier law.

I have long worked for far-reaching overhaul of how we finance and deliver health care in America, and I celebrate this major accomplishment.

We are all hearing several narratives from different quarters ? that predictably conflict:

After decades of trying ? by Democrats and Republicans, far-reaching health reform has passed into law.

This is a major victory for a more compassionate and communitarian society.

President Obama and his party can be proud of their leadership on achieving this.
This legislation gives the federal government a significantly greater role in directing the American health care system.

Republicans will campaign against a government takeover of health care, and they could see major electoral gains this fall and in 2012.

Will it work?

Can we afford it?

Each of us will choose which of those and other narratives to emphasize.

I am very glad it passed, even with its flaws and other consequences that we don't yet know about.

On the whole ? we badly have needed to cover the uninsured ? and this legislation, when implemented, will do that in a big way. The fact that not everyone will be covered is surely true ? but this is a major step in the right direction.

As the head of a major public safety net institution, I am very concerned about the proposed cuts in Medicare. I have to believe, and I do, that these will not occur ? to anything like the extent promised ? because of the predictable push-back of seniors and health providers.

So what that means is this will add hugely to the federal budget deficit ? not a happy prospect, to be sure.

I continue to believe that our nation must press ahead with additional health system reform, that delivers quality care at much lower costs. We can do that ? but it will stretch us like nothing we have ever done before. Just like this process has challenged our political system.

Here at UNC we are dedicated to reform, and we are determined to be a leader ? creating a new model for organizing and delivering care.

So … Health reform has passed … With much more to come! I believe we will be arguing about all of this for months ? indeed for years to come.

Stay tuned!