May 09

Amref Health Africa- Celebrates 60 years…

 

Dear family and friends,

It’s been a while since I last communicated with you and although I’m now back in the UK, I wanted to share with you some of the ups and downs of my last few weeks of my PULSE journey and little bit more about my NGO. There are genuine reasons why I haven’t done any blogs since December – read on to find out more….

When preparing for PULSE journey, previous volunteers had all said that there would be ups and downs on this incredible journey. But of course, being one of those people who always sees half glass full and positivity in everything, I didn’t really want to believe them. Then, returning to Kenya after the Christmas break, I seemed to have had more downs than ups.

Two or should I say 3 big changes happened in the new year which contributed to my ‘downs’:

  • The day I returned to the office after my Christmas break, there was a fire at Amref’s Kenyan Country Offices (KCO) which gutted the 2nd floor of the building where I sit with the M&E (Monitoring and Evaluation) team. The photograph doesn’t really do justice to the fire scene – you can just about make out the ‘orange’ flames in the second picture!  I’m not sure if the video of the fire will play………

 

 

 

PULSE -1 March 2018 3414 PULSE -1 March 2018 3418

The fire displaced the KCO folks to work primarily from Amref Health Africa’s HQ down the road for 2-3 weeks which meant worse than normal internet issues for everyone! (internet connectivity has been a big issue here). This was quite a big disruption not just for me but for the whole organisation.

  • An even a bigger personal change, I now had a new supervisor at Amref. My previous supervisor left just before Christmas and the new supervisor was assigned end of Jan 2018.
  • On 5 Feb, my GSK laptop was stolen from my apartment whilst sleeping! This was very unsettling experience having to deal with the Kenyan police and the management team at Mimosa Court apartment. Thanks to the support from GSK Kenyan security/IT, Amref colleagues and the other PULSE volunteers for getting me through this difficult time. I’m still struggling to get everything synchronised on my new laptop!  

With less than 2 months left, these were major changes and set-backs. Panic set-in and I wondered if/how I could deliver on my set objectives! Outwardly, I appeared calm and collected but inside, I felt like an emotional wreck frantically questioning my abilities and capabilities. My patience and resilience were seriously tested. I methodically reviewed what I had done in the previous months and put together my plans for the remainder of my stay.

So, at my first meeting with my new supervisor at the beginning of February, we agreed on a new strategy/work plan for my remaining weeks at Amref. The plan was to organise fieldwork activities to enable consolidation of my knowledge on the data flow and project execution processes at Amref. At that point, I’m pleased to say my positivity started to return!

First such activity was my visit to the ‘Child Doctor Clinic’. This clinic is at the bottom of my street and I had never noticed it!

Formerly a Japanese based NGO started by one man with a vision for healthy society. Back in Japan, the founder saw disadvantaged children and those with disabilities committing suicide but this was not the case in Nairobi. Here in Nairobi, he saw the children were still positive and had smiles on their faces.  

So, an international collaboration was started around 2002 matching children from the settlements in Nairobi with children in Japan. Children fitting the programme could receive the necessary treatment, including physiotherapy.

However, sadly with the downturn in the Japanese economy around 2014, the NGO could no longer support the clinic and despite interventions such as CDC and Amref to run CCC, the funding gap remained. With no other donors in sight has meant the closure of the clinic this year. Sadly, the staff will need to find alternative posts, the children and outpatients will now have to go elsewhere for their medical needs too.

So, what if the clinic is closed, I hear you say? The point I wanted to make is that one or handful of people can make a big difference to the lives of the underprivileged communities. We mustn’t underestimate our ability to make a positive change, however small – we just need the vision and the drive….

This then brings me to Amref Health Africa – another example where back in 1956, three inspiring doctors (Michael Wood, Archibald McIndoe and Tom Rees) sitting in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, came up with a ground-breaking plan to provide the much-needed air-based medical assistance to the remotest, hard to reach communities in East Africa. At that time, there was 1 doctor to 30,000 people in East Africa. The following year, Amref Health Africa was officially launched.

PULSE -1 March 2018 1269 Flying Doctors of East Africa launched 1957. Today, everyone in Kenya seems to know about the ‘flying doctors’

Today, 60 years on, Amref has continued to carry the mantle that the founding fathers handed down; using modern technology (aeroplane, telephone, radio, internet, and mobile phones etc.) to link communities to their health services.

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Amref Health Africa celebrating 60th anniversary!

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 Dr Githinji Gitahi, CEO, addressing employees at the celebrations  

Over the years, ground-based mobile medical services, training and education for rural health workers, technical support units, maternal and child health and family planning to name a few of Amref’s initiatives have been added along with ‘flight clinics’ for the under-served and remote communities in Kenya and other parts of Africa. Last year, Amref also received approval for university status (Amref International University) offering a range of healthcare courses as well as leadership, management and governance.  

As mentioned above, women and children’s health has been at the heart of Amref’s strategy. The organization concerns itself with skilled care of mothers before, during and after childbirth and management of childhood illnesses. However, whilst maternal and child health are its main areas of intervention, other areas such as HIV and tuberculosis, safe water and sanitation, malaria and essential clinical care have also been tackled through Amref ‘s projects. 

By partnering with donors, governments, health workers and communities, Amref has managed to reach around 13 million people through their health-focused programs. From the humble beginnings in 1957 when the 3 doctors founded the ‘Flying Doctors of East Africa’, Amref has come a long way with offices in seven African countries with further programmatic reach in 35 African countries, and 11 offices in Europe and North America.

Moving forward this year, Amref Health Africa has embarked on a new, shorter exciting 5-year strategy (2018-2022) to continue its journey of focusing on the underserved communities, women, children and now the youth. Wishing Amref all the best for the future and here’s to the next 60 years……