Amref Health Africa

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Amref Health Africa (formerly the African Medical and Research Foundation – AMREF), was founded in 1957, by three surgeons as the Flying Doctors Service of East Africa. Three doctors – Sir Michael Wood, Sir Archibald McIndoe and Tom Rees – drew up a groundbreaking plan to provide medical assistance to remote regions of East Africa, where they had all worked for many years as reconstructive surgeons. Spurred by what they had seen of the combined effects of poverty, tropical disease and a lack of adequate health services in East Africa, their collective vision was born in the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro.


East African Flying Doctor Service Cessna 402B at its Nairobi (Wilson) Airport base in 1973

At that time, there was one doctor to every 30,000 people in East Africa – in Britain it was 1:1,000. Medical facilities were sparse, with rough terrain and often impassable roads making access to medical care difficult for people in rural and remote areas. As this was where the majority of the population lived, Archie, Tom and Michael saw an air-based service as the only way to get health care to remote communities. Amref Health Africa delivered mobile health services and provided mission hospitals with surgical support. A medical radio network was developed to coordinate the service, and provide communication.

Amref Health Africa's Logo

In the early 1960s, ground-based mobile medical services were added, along with ‘flight clinics’ for the under-served and remote areas in the Kajiado and Narok districts of Kenya.

By 1975, training and education for rural health workers were already a major part of Amref Health Africa's efforts. This included the development of health learning materials. In the late 1970s, Amref Health Africa continued providing mobile clinical and maternal and child health (MCH) services. It also started to focus on community-based health care (CBHC) and training community health workers to deliver primary health care.

During the 1980s, Amref Health Africa moved into community health development, closer collaboration with the ministries of health in the region, and cooperation with international aid agencies. This set the organisation’s course for the 1980s and beyond. Greater emphasis was given to strengthening health systems and staff development, with special attention to health needs identified by communities themselves. Amref Health Africa staff gained experience in the planning and management of health services at a national level – expertise that has since been shared in-house with health ministries (the first was Uganda).

In the early 1990s, Amref Health Africa established a unique year-long training course in community health. The 1990s also saw Amref Health Africa’s work expand to include disease control initiatives, focusing on malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB. During the mid-1990s, Amref Health Africa increased its focus on HIV/AIDS as it looked set to undo much of the progress made in health during the 20th century, and become a major burden to health systems in poor countries. During the same period, in recognition of the need for partnerships at the community level, AMREF engaged more with local groups to enable community-based planning, shared identification of issues and priorities, and efficient use of resources.

In recent years, Amref Health Africa has highlighted the fact that despite huge investments by donors in health products and delivery of health services, a large percentage of Africans still have limited access to sufficient and quality health care.

Amref Health Africa's Work[edit]

Amref Health Africa is bringing good quality and affordable health care closer to those who need it most - improving access to health treatment and preventing poor health through community education.

Working closely with African communities and governments, Amref Health Africa ensures that its health projects are relevant and sustainable.

Create Healthy Communities[edit]

Communities are at the heart of Amref Health Africa’s work as Amref Health Africa works to enable communities live healthier lives.

Amref Health Africa works with the some of the poorest and most marginalised people in Africa; those living in remote rural areas, urban slums, nomadic populations and areas affected by conflict. Amref Health Africa has also initiated a school rebuilding project throughout Africa with the assistance of the Women Leading Change Foundation, founded by AG Hair.

Fight Disease[edit]

Amref Health Africa is helping to fight Africa’s deepening health crisis – finding local, appropriate solutions to community health needs. Health spending in Africa is woefully inadequate. The continent bears 25% of the world’s ‘burden’ of disease, yet has only 3% of the world’s health workers and only 1% of global health expenditure. Amref Health Africa is challenging this on many fronts – not least by tackling the diseases themselves.

Train Health Workers[edit]

Amref campaigners at the London 2012 Olympics

Amref Health Africa is training health workers in close to 40 African countries and beyond. Through its training, Amref Health Africa aims to strengthen the capacity and capability of health and health-related professionals and institutions.

Health services cannot function without sufficient numbers of skilled, motivated and supported health workers. Yet estimates suggest that Africa needs one million more health workers in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals for health.

Every year Amref Health Africa trains more than 10,000 community health workers who bring health close closer to people’s homes in some of Africa’s most marginalised communities. They also train doctors, nurses, community midwives, clinical officers, laboratory technicians and pharmacists.

Strengthen Health Systems[edit]

Despite an increase in health spending in Africa, many people have limited access to good quality health care, especially in remote and rural areas. The burden of diseases such as HIV, TB and malaria, lack of health workers and management and organisational failures have all had a devastating effect. Amref Health Africa takes a more holistic approach to health by focusing on the different components needed to deliver effective health care, including; formal health workers, community health workers, laboratories and drug supplies.

Advocacy and Research[edit]

Long-term improvements in health will not be achieved through the delivery of health projects alone. Amref Health Africa sets out to influence those in power so that health policies, practices and financing better serve the needs of the poor.

Amref Health Africa has learnt a great deal from its 50 years of experience working in and with some of the poorest and most marginalised communities and its advocacy work is imbued by lessons learnt in these communities. This evidence-based knowledge is used to inform, influence and advocate for change.

Young Fabians Partnership[edit]

Amref Health Africa entered into a partnership with the Young Fabians Health Network, a specialised interest group within the Young Fabian think tank. AMREF UK CEO Samara Hammond and former Chair, Adebusuyi Adeyemi agreed on a partnership from May 2013. The partnership expired a year later.


“Amref Health Africa has shown that indigenous solutions based on international science can address the toughest problems in the world, and serve as a beacon for Africa and for the world.” - The Global Health Fund

Gates Award for Global Health - 2005[edit]

The award, worth $1 million, was established in 2000 by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and is given annually to the organisation that they consider to have made a major and lasting contribution to the field of global health.

Medical Honors Award - 2004[edit]

Amref Health Africa received the Medical Honors Award from Discovery Health Channel, USA for its extraordinary lifesaving work of nearly 50 years in improving the health of millions of people in Africa

Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Award - 1999[edit]

The world’s largest humanitarian award which honors tireless commitment by Amref Health Africa to bring health care services to the most remote areas of the continent. The Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize was established by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in 1996. The annual $1.5 million award honors a charitable or non-governmental organisation that has made extraordinary contributions toward alleviating human suffering anywhere in the world.

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