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Health care comes to Rwanda's remote villages

Drones, solar power and high-speed internet are rapidly bringing the 21st century to rural Rwanda.

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James Martin
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Rwanda has become an unlikely leader in rural health care, providing universal healthcare and opening more than 50 health facilities across the country in the past 15 years. 

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Rwanda is a small, densely populated country that is covered rolling green hills with terraced farms.

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In rural Rwanda, people don't measure distance in miles or kilometers. They measure it by how long it takes them to walk somewhere.

Bikes in Rwanda
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Along the mountainous windy roads, people carry jugs of water and bags of food on their heads. They also load up bikes with goods.

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The University of Global Health Equity, a brainchild of the nonprofit Partners in Health, is building its first campus in northern Rwanda. It will be a medical school that teaches rural health care in a rural setting. 

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A group of school children in rural Rwanda.

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Construction is buzzing on the 250-acre piece of land that will become home to the University of Global Health Equity. 

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Workers take a break during construction of the University of Global Health Equity.

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The first group of medical students at the University of Global Health Equity, now under construction, is slated to start September 2018. 

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Rwanda is an endless expanse of jade-green mountains and lush terraced farms filled with cabbage, corn, potatoes and beans.

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Workers clean solar panels at the Rwamagana Solar Power Station, a massive, 8.5 megawatt solar power plant about an hour's drive east of Kigali.

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The Rwamagana plant generates 5 percent of all of Rwanda's electricity. 

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Workers clean the fine red dirt from the solar panels to improve the panels' efficiency.

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The Rwamagana plant is helping build a new smaller solar plant to serve the local Rubona Health Center. Planned to be completed in December, the health center will be one of only a few in Rwanda to run on solar energy.

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Children play along the remote dirt road leading to the Butaro Hospital. 

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Rwanda is orderly and immaculate. Not only are plastic bags illegal, there's no litter anywhere. That's because of monthly Umuganda day, which means "coming together" in the local language, Kinyarwanda. On Umuganda, every Rwandan must go out and clean the streets and countryside.

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Rwandan children like to give the thumbs up when people drive by.

Butaro Hospital
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Butaro has become the de facto centerpiece for Rwanda's advancements in health care. It's sprawling hospital compound has everything from a pathology lab to an intensive surgery unit to a cancer center.

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A technician organizes samples headed to the lab.

Butaro, Rwanda hospital
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Butaro Hospital was built and is operated by Partners in Health, a nonprofit health care organization based in Boston. The group, which had been working in Rwanda since 2005, opened this hospital in 2011.

Butaro Hospital cancer clinic sign
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Butaro Hospital has expanded since it first opened in 2011. In 2012, it opened a cancer center and now it's building temporary housing for cancer patients going through chemotherapy.

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Rwanda's newest hospitals pair modern architecture with the natural beauty of Rwanda. This building is the chemotherapy infusion center for cancer patients.

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People suffering from tropical illnesses like malaria, dengue fever and tuberculosis once had to walk for hours to reach the closest doctors.

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The development of the hospital has spurred other infrastructure investment in the area, including roads and internet. This road to the Butaro Hospital is now being paved.

Normally, these fiber cables go under existing roads. But in this case, the cables will be put underground once the road is done.

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Workers carry rebar during construction of the University of Global Health Equity.

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The construction of the University of Global Health Equity is a big operation. Workers drive tractors back and forth, mix cement and haul concrete blocks in wheelbarrows.

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A man manually bends rebar at the construction site. 

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Another view of Rwanda's landscape. The country is known as the "land of a thousand hills."

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Rwanda struggles with an overworked electrical grid, intermittent running water and few paved roads outside of its capital city, Kigali. This road to the Kintobo Health Center in the northwestern corner of the county is currently being renovated.

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School children wave hello and yell "muzungo," foreigner, as we pass by.

A boy and his mother in the hospital in Kintobo, Rwanda.
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A woman and child in the Kintobo Health Center.

A patient (left) sits for an initial consultation at the hospital in Kintobo, Rwanda.
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A patient (left) gets medicine from the pharmacy at the Kintobo Health Center.

A woman does laundry at the hospital in Kintobo, Rwanda.
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A woman does laundry at the Kintobo Health Center.

Rwanda is aiming to have a hospital in each of their 30 districts with the goal of allow anyone to reach a medical facility within an hour or two by foot.
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Rwanda is aiming to have a hospital in each of its 30 districts, along with the goal of providing a medical facility within an hour's walk -- for everyone.

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In the maternity ward at the Kintobo Health Clinic.

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The Kintobo Health Center is laid out for easy navigation. Patients arrive at the check-in counter, circle through to a waiting area and then pass along to consultation rooms.

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A technician at the Kintobo Health Center.

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Three boys play in a wheelbarrow outside the Kintobo Health Center.

Zipline drone blood delivery Rwanda
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Drone company Zipline aims to deliver blood to Rwanda's medical centers in less than 20 minutes by drone, instead of the up to three hours it can take by road.

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Zipline's drones fly to their hospital destinations following predetermined flight paths that have been loaded onto SD cards.

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For hundreds of years, people came to this Umuvumu tree in Butaro to be healed. Now they come to see the doctors. 

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