Amref Health Africa turns 60

Staff from Amref Health Africa came together to launch the Amref@60 anniversary celebrations today at the Amref Flying Doctors Hangar in Wilson Airport, Nairobi, Kenya.

 

The event was officially opened by Dr Bettina Vadera, the CEO and Medical Director of Amref Flying Doctors (AFD). “As we celebrate Amref@60, we pay tribute to our founders and all those who came before us,” she started.

Dr Bettina was keen to observe that Amref Health Africa has overcome many milestones in the last 60 years. “When AFD started, we had very small aircrafts and few health professionals. Today, we have much larger aircrafts including the Pilatus PC12 and we are also proud to have a fully Kenyan crew that operates these aircrafts,” she confirmed.

Also present during the launch was Dr Jane Carter, the Technical Director of Clinical and Diagnostics Programme, who has been in Amref for 32 years. “In 2014, I was honoured to attend the statue unveiling of one of our founders, Sir Archibald McIndoe, in East Grinstead, in England. Today, I present a miniature statue that resembles the one in East Grinstead, to our GCEO in celebration of the 60 years we have been in operation,” she explained.


To Dr Carter, the transformation Amref has gone through in the past 60 years has been phenomenal. “When I was in AFD, the aircrafts were small and we did not even have GPS. Everything we did was manual. A lot has changed since then but our work remains as important,” she confirmed.

“From figuring out that chloroquine was not the best drug to treat malaria due to chloroquine resistance, and preventing millions of deaths, to helping the government in collecting blood after the 1998 Nairobi bomb blast attacks to solve the acute shortage at the time, indeed, we have been fundamental in the growth of the health system of Africa,” she stated.

To fully paint a picture of how far Amref has come, and the immense work it has done, Jane Munywa, the Head Nurse in Emergency Department in AFD, narrated to the staff present on her journey with Amref. Starting as a part time Locum nurse, Jane has seen Amref grow into an organisation that not only desires lasting health change in Africa, but that also secures it.

“My most memorable moments are from my experience with charity evacuations. Through these evacuations, we saved an 850 gram baby among many other babies who would have been lost. We saved pregnant mothers who had sought for medical help to no avail. We were present during the darkest times in history. From the Busia plane crash, to Mogadishu attacks, to Westgate attacks and to the Garissa University attacks, we have been present and we have saved lives,” she stated amidst applause.

In the last 60 years, Amref Health Africa not only served the community, but also offered its staff a platform to grow. “I joined Amref as an office assistant 22 years ago. Through the opportunities availed to me by the organisation, I was able to go to the University for both undergraduate and Master’s degrees,” added Robert Athewa, a Communication and Public Relations Officer under the Health Systems Advocacy project.

Francis Yego, the longest serving staff member in Amref, challenged his colleagues to always make a difference through the work they do.“Moving forward, ask yourself on a daily basis, what you have done for Amref,” he challenged.

Yego’s sentiments were echoed by Dr Githinji Gitahi, the Group CEO, who stressed on the need for quality. “As we say No turning Back, let us make quality our way of life. Michael Wood, one of our founders did not turn back amidst the hard challenges he and his partners faced when they created the vision for Amref. He did the best that he could and we have seen the results. Indeed, so must we do the best that we can to ensure that the services we offer are worthy,” he stated.

Dr Meshack Ndirangu, the Amref Health Africa in Kenya Country Director, also present at the event, was keen to point out that sustainable innovations were the way forward for the organisation. “At the Kenya Country Office, we have started making plans on how to integrate donor relations with social enterprises and entrepreneurship. Let us make what our founders created, and what we have used in the last 60 years, sustainable in order to help and reach more people,” he encouraged.

2017 also marked the end of the organisation’s 10-year strategic plan. “We have already drafted our new strategic plan and in it, we stress the need for quality and sustainability,” revealed the GCEO. He went further to encourage the staff that even though the future was uncertain, together, the organisation could reach new heights and continue to serve the community better.

“Yes, the future is not easy, but we can do it! The international board is confident in this team and just like our founders and all those who came before us, we will push Amref to the next 60 years without turning back,” he concluded.

Michelle Dibo – Writer, Amref Health Africa