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Volunteer Spotlight: Viviane Leuche, MD Committed to Improving Health Care in Sub-Saharan Africa

Growing up in Cameroon, Viviane Leuche, MD, was inspired by her childhood pediatrician to pursue a career in pediatrics. The African continent’s relatively young population—the estimated median age is 19 years old—offers many opportunities for a pediatrician to make an impact. She says she was particularly attracted to pediatric emergency medicine because of the skills it provides for treating extremely sick children.

Dr. Leuche completed her medical degree at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and her pediatrics residency at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Currently, she is completing a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Minnesota. Her studies in global health included learning about disease processes that are more commonly seen in sub-Saharan Africa than in the US during traditional medical training. She also had the opportunity to meet Ugandan senior house officers and attending physicians who visited Minnesota, as well as to participate in discussions about health outcome disparities and inequities, ethics, and colonialism in global health.

Left to right: Dr. Viviane Leuche and Sister Jolly Rubambarama, charge nurse, Pediatric Acute Care, Mulago Regional Referral Hospital, Kampala, Uganda, 2019. Sister Jolly’s black belt indicates her position as a senior nursing officer.

In the spring of 2019, Dr. Leuche’s mentors at University of Minnesota, Dr. Cindy Howard and Dr. Tina Slusher, encouraged her to volunteer with HVO in Kampala, Uganda at Mulago Hospital and Kawempe Hospital in the Special Care Baby Unit. Her visit overlapped with Dr. Yvonne Vaucher, a longtime volunteer who serves as HVO’s project director for the pediatric site in Kampala. The project’s goals are to strengthen the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health through training and capacity building.

Drs. Howard, Slusher, and Vaucher advised Dr. Leuche as she began her work. Once on-site, she connected with Stella Nyange, the HVO volunteer coordinator, who was an important resource in navigating Kampala and Mulago. Dr. Ezekiel Mupere and Dr. Bob Opoka from the pediatrics department at Makerere University School of Medicine, among other staff, also provided invaluable guidance. Dr. Leuche says she appreciated the hospitality of her Ugandan colleagues, a sentiment shared by many HVO volunteers.

Highlights of her assignment, Dr. Leuche recalls, were her work treating children with challenging illnesses, the teaching shared while working in Pediatric Acute Care, and the many conversations she had with trainees rotating through the ward, pediatric senior house officers, attendings, and charge nurses. She says that Sister Jolly Rubambarama, the warm, dedicated charge nurse in Pediatric Acute Care, especially left her with lasting memories. While her volunteer experience was brief, Dr. Leuche continues to maintain contact with some of the pediatric senior house officers and Sister Jolly. She hopes to return to the HVO project site in Kampala to continue participating in educational and research partnerships.

After completing her fellowship, Dr. Leuche will join the faculty of University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics as an assistant professor in pediatric emergency medicine and global child health. She plans to return to Cameroon or go to another sub-Saharan country to partner with local pediatricians in their efforts to improve the health of children through collaborative teaching and locally led solutions to health system change.

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