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Australian Envoy Visits AMREF Headquarters

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The Australian High Commissioner to Kenya, Mr Geoff Tooth, visited AMREF Headquarters on February 14, where he met and held discussions with AMREF Director General Dr Teguest Guerma, and members of AMREF’s Executive Committee. Mr Tooth was accompanied by AusAID Counsellor Sue Graves.

Dr Guerma gave the visitors a brief on AMREF and its work in Africa. She said that in addition to the six existing country programmes – Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Southern Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – AMREF is in the process of setting up a country programme in Senegal as an entry into West Africa and francophone Africa. The organisation also plans to expand its presence in southern Africa.

Both Teguest and Mr Tooth are relatively new to their jobs, Teguest having joined AMREF in June 2010, and Mr Tooth being just six months old in Nairobi. “The thing that impressed me most about AMREF,” Teguest said, “was the fact that AMREF goes where nobody else goes, and is making a real difference in the lives of poor and neglected communities.”

She outlined the ongoing ‘One AMREF’ process, which will result in one business plan and one budget for the whole organisation, thus enabling savings and promoting cost-effectiveness.

Director of Capacity Building Dr Peter Ngatia presented a summary of AMREF’s strategy and areas of focus. “AMREF has decided to focus on women and children for the next three years because the heavy burden of disease primarily affects them. AMREF invests in making sure that health systems are functional, and in empowering communities to play their role because they have the solutions to their problems.”

Expounding on AMREF’s work with women and children, Dr John Nduba, Director of Reproductive and Child Health, noted that although there is still a lot of work to be done in the area, Africa is making progress. He gave an example of Ethiopia, where AMREF is helping the government to train community health workers and linking them to health facilities. The programme has caused tremendous changes in communities, eliminating childhood epidemics and facilitating a steady decline in maternal mortality. Diarrhoea and pneumonia, however, continue to exert a heavy toll, causing 20 per cent of childhood deaths.

AMREF’s strategies to reducing the deaths of mothers and children, Dr Nduba said, includes increasing the use of family planning, which is at only 30 per cent.” If every pregnancy is wanted, mothers and children will be healthy. If every woman knows and manages her body, she will be healthy. And if every child born grows to be an adult, African women will no longer feel the need to have many children,” he said. AMREF is therefore working to ensure that health systems are strong enough to provide information, family planning and other services whenever and wherever they are needed.

Dr Bettina Vadera, Medical Director of the Flying Doctor Emergency Services (FDES), highlighted the relationship between FDES and the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service (RFDS) of Australia. The Australian outfit has provided a lot of support and guidance to the FDES, she noted, which to a great extent is modelled on the RFDS. Funds raised by the service are used in AMREF’s surgical outreach programme, she explained, adding that AMREF is currently in the process of registering the FDES as a non-profit company to raise money for the organisation’s work.

Mr Tooth said he greatly admires AMREF’s work, which fits in very well with what the Australian government wants to do in East Africa, especially regarding maternal and child health. He added that he was impressed with AMREF’s commitment to improve health for African communities and hoped it would be possible for some officials from the Australian government and even members of the public to visit AMREF projects and see the work that is being done on the ground.

Sue Graves, who has already been in discussions with Dr Nduba, said AusAID is keen on supporting AMREF’s Maternal and Child Health programme. She expressed a keen interest in working together with other AMREF partners for the success of the programme, noting that the ‘One AMREF’ strategy will ensure greater efficiency and effectiveness.