Analysis: Improving African healthcare

The provision of health services in a number of African countries is being transformed by the work of the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF).

AMREF, a charitable organisation based in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, is using the growing availability of mobile data services across the continent to establish online learning initiatives, spreading knowledge of good healthcare practices. In particular AMREF provides e-learning courses designed to improve the training of nurses and health workers through distance learning – for many the only affordable way to study.

With a focus on preventative, community-based health care, AMREF now has major programmes in countries such as Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa, and is expanding its reach into west Africa.

“What we do is ensure communities have the knowledge, skills and means to maintain good health, and break the cycle of poor health and poverty,” said Caroline Mbindyo, eHealth programme manager with AMREF. “We bring vulnerable communities and

the formal health care system closer together.”

Among the tools developed to support AMREF’s work is mBookReader, a Java application that can be used to provide supplementary information to trainee nurses on the charity’s e-learning programme via any device enabled for mobile data services. It has been tested for use on over 60 handsets.

Another example of some of the work being carried out by AMREF is MyNCP, a mobile-learning activity for training nurses that helps supports peer learning, as well as supervision and feedback from experienced health professionals. It is designed to be integrated with existing training practices.

As well as training community-based health workers via e-learning, Mbindyo has described AMREF’s key areas of focus as safe pregnancy and improved reproductive health, reduction of child mortality, the scaling up of HIV, TB and malaria programmes, prevention of diseases related to water, sanitation and hygiene, and increasing the access of disadvantaged communities to high quality medical, surgical and clinical services.

“AMREF is run by Africans, for Africans,” she pointed out. “Our head office is in Nairobi, and we also have offices in the UK, and across Europe, the US, and Canada. AMREF doesn’t just provide aid and walk away – it empowers communities, right at grass roots level, to make real change - change that works for them, and which is sustainable. Our work has won high-profile international awards such the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Award for Global Health and the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Award.”

AMREF’s e-learning, she said, is particularly useful for those for whom access to classroom-based training is difficult, perhaps because of distance or financial restraints. E-learning has the advantage of allowing trainees to stay in full time employment, and stay living at home with their families, said Mbindyo. “Before I joined the programme, I had never even used a computer before,” said newly qualified nurse Anne Kamene, who joined AMREF’s e-learning programme in 2007.

“To my surprise, I did not find it hard to adapt to e-learning. At AMREF, we spent two weeks being coached in IT skills. I would not say that I am computer literate, but I can use a computer well enough to run the programme. The e-learning programme taught me many new skills. I am more confident now, as I can diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions, from mental illness to infectious diseases. Previously, I would rely on advice from senior nurses and doctors. Today, I can treat more patients independently. I am even able to notice mistakes made by doctors. Today, I am a proud to say that I am a qualified registered nurse. My next dream is to one day continue my nursing education to degree level.”

If you would like to know more about AMREF and how you can get involved in supporting the charity’s work please visit its website at



Time for giving

AMREF has been adopted by the staff of TelCap, the company that publishes Capacity magazine as their chosen charity. TelCap is also now committing to raise funds.

TelCap’s help will include hosting a range of events, including awards dinners and other innovative fundraising activities. With support already received, AMREF has begun water and sanitation work in Kechene in Ethiopia, bringing services to an area with a population of 35,000 people.

“TelCap is pleased to actively support this project, which will help to transform the living conditions of residents of Kechene,” said Paul Collinson, publisher of Capacity magazine.

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