• Wagner ’10 and Dr. Agnew Binagwaho

    Claire Wagner ’10 (left) with colleague and friend Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the minister of health for Rwanda. (courtesy photo)

    Alumna Champions Health Care Improvements in Rwanda

    Wednesday, July 22, 2015
    News Type

Though she graduated only five years ago, Claire Wagner ’10 is no longer just learning about global health—she’s an authority on the subject.  

Earlier this spring, Wagner spoke with the BBC about the successes of Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the minister of health for Rwanda, for the story, “How has Rwanda saved the lives of 590,000 children?” Wagner shared the country’s health insurance coverage (90 percent), HPV vaccination rates (higher than the U.S.), and unprecedented declines in premature birth mortality.

For three years, Wagner worked in Rwanda as a high-level research fellow to Binagwaho, who also serves as a clinical professor of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine. Wagner is now senior consultant at the Center for Global Cancer Medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and a National Cancer Institute fellow at the Union for International Cancer Control in Geneva. She will enroll at Harvard Medical School this fall.

For now, Wagner’s specific area of interest is improving cancer treatment in developing countries such as Rwanda—where Wagner calls cancer treatment “Pre-Nixonian,” as it is similar to cancer care in the U.S. in the 1960s.  She says, “Being able to see a kid with a tumor who has a 80 to 90 percent chance of survival at Dana Farber, where I work—to see that kid survive in Rwanda—I find that incredibly inspiring, but I also I feel it should be commonplace.”  

out at Molly's Restaurant
Claire Wagner ’10 at Molly’s restaurant with Dartmouth students from Rwanda Eric Iradakunda ’17, Marie Josee Uwayezu ’18, and Christian Kwisanga ’18. (courtesy photo)

She finds encouragement in the World Health Organization’s recent decision to add 16 new cancer drugs to its “essential medicines” list—a decision Wagner and Binagwaho helped influence alongside leadership at the UICC and Dana-Farber. Part of Wagner’s job is to spread the message that treating cancer in developing countries can be done safely and inexpensively. “There’s a huge cost of inaction,” she says. “Many pediatric cancers are curable—and with an inexpensive regimen, kids can often go on to lead healthy, productive lives.”

Wagner discovered her interest in global health at Dartmouth, where she majored in anthropology and wrote her thesis on street children in Tanzania. Associate Professor of Anthropology Sienna Craig and President Emeritus Jim Yong Kim, now president of the World Bank, served as her advisors. Wagner also served as an intern to Lisa Adams at the Dickey Center’s Global Health Initiative. “These experiences were invaluable, as I began to understand the issues in a very nuanced way,” says Wagner. “I was extraordinarily lucky to work with these leaders in their fields.”

Lake Burera in Rwanda. (courtesy photo)
Lake Burera in Rwanda. (courtesy photo)

A proud Dartmouth alumna, Wagner is enthusiastic about Dartmouth’s recent announcements to create a new faculty cluster on global health and to expand the King Scholar program, which brings exceptional students from Latin America, Africa, and Asia to Dartmouth. (Wagner notes that a current King Scholar, Eric Iradakunda '17, is from Rwanda.)

Reflecting on her undergraduate years, Wagner spoke about the importance of her interactions with fellow Dartmouth students from Kenya, Sub-Saharan Africa, and her hometown of Philadelphia. “I learned so much from everyone,” she says. “It’s enriching to be part of an institution that believes in this type of diversity and that is dedicated to investing in young people around the world.”