Global Health and Amref Health Africa: the Flying Doctors

On Thursday 16th May, Mrs Amanda Caine and Mr Rick Brown visited College to talk about the organisation Amref Health Africa. Amref is a non-governmental organisation founded in 1957; its aim is to increase sustainable access to healthcare. Amref lead health reforms with their five-year strategy: increased human resources for health, innovative health services and solutions including preventative care, curative and restorative health services, and lastly investments in health so that a universal health coverage is achieved by 2030. Their four main areas of focus for improvement are maternal and child health, training of health workers, water sanitation and hygiene, and sexual and reproductive health.

Amanda Caine is a board member of Amref, having previously worked as the former head of strategic planning for Oxfam. Rick Brown worked as an engineer in the Royal Navy before becoming an orthopaedic surgeon, mainly working in Britain but also frequently in Africa. 

The talk enlightened us as to the drastic health gaps between different places around the world; although Sub-Saharan Africa has one quarter of the world's disease burden, it only has 3% of health workers. Of particular focus was Uganda, where one-third of children have stunted growth and where there is a mortality rate of 336 per 100,000. To address this, Amref have trained 600 midwives and nurses in Uganda, providing courses to teach them basic emergency obstetric, neonatal care and customer care. They train the nurses to effectively provide care even when there is no water, no electricity, no supplies and no money to pay for a referral to another hospital.

In order to improve the conditions and the care that the patients receive, doctors are trained to treat conditions that are particularly frequent in Sub-Saharan Africa. One example of this is club foot. Training doctors to treat this condition is particularly important; in Cameroon there are only two surgeons for one-third of the country. This reflects the drastic need for an increase in global surgeons. However, Amref helps improve the patient care by providing the opportunity for surgeons throughout the world to meet with surgeons from Africa and help with the most challenging and severe illnesses.

Another major health problem that Mrs Caine and Mr Brown covered in their talk was fistulas and the stigma that surrounds them. An obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by obstructed labour, it is estimated more than two million women live with this condition in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Obstetric fistulas have to be treated with a holistic approach because, due to the unpleasant side effects of the disease, the women suffering from them often face social isolation. They are excluded from social gatherings, they lose their jobs and sometimes even lose their husbands.

Amref aims to firstly decrease the number of women suffering from obstetric fistulas by providing accessible maternal health care, including family planning, skilled care at birth, and an increased awareness about prevention. They also help the women suffering from fistulas by providing psycho-social support and encourage social reintegration by teaching skills and providing business opportunities. Furthermore, AMREF is trying to remove the stigma around fistula to help future sufferers, educating the community about the frequency and reasoning behind fistulas so that they understand and support the women suffering from this disease.

Flora (SFC1)