The African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) is the largest health development organization based in Africa.
Headquartered in Kenya, AMREF also has programs in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Their mission is to “improve the health of disadvantaged people in Africa as a means for them to escape poverty and improve the quality of their life.”
They do this with an annual operating budget of approximately $30 million and by employing 600 staff. But AMREF makes it clear that Africa is woefully underserved in area of health care. Their web site cites that in Malawi there are just 2.2 doctors to every 100,000 people, 4.5 in Kenya and 7.5 in Zambia. The nursing figures are staggering as well. In Malawi there is just one nurse to every 20,000 patients. To make matters worse, the health professionals are concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural sector and the poorest areas of the cities with hardly any health services at all. And it is in these rural areas and slums where the majority of the populations live.
AMREF also believes that “(l)ittle emphasis is put onto health systems by existing governments due to other pressing needs. One could argue that good health is mainly enjoyed due to the interaction of health-related NGOs.”
In providing healthcare in the underserved areas, AMREF has traditionally used the radio and the airplane to achieve this goal in a program known as clinical outreach, which was the best technology available at the time.
But recently it has developed a program based upon information and computer technologies (ITC) to take its services to the next level. Now, the eighty rural hospitals currently served by AMREF in East Africa will eventually receive the benefit of this technology. This new initiative is called “Outreach Telemedicine.”
This new technology will be used to provide second opinions to clinicians in those hospitals supported by the AMREF outreach program in order improve the quality of care for patients and provide them access to specialist surgery.
Practitioners in the rural areas seldom have the opportunity to improve their skill and knowledge because they have no opportunities for refresher or further training. But now, CME (Continuing Medical Education) courses will be available to these health care professionals through the use of the new technology.
Clinical staff from the rural hospital will be able to send by email to consulting physicians case notes and accompanying images of the patient, X-rays, lesions or any other views necessary for a proper diagnosis. Also the results of diagnostic procedures may be emailed as well. Once the consulting physician receives the transmission he or she may begin the virtual consultation. After the consultation, all of the data can be stored on computers for further reference if needed.
By January 2005 AMREF had four Outreach Telemedicine projects operating – two in Tanzania: Kibondo and Rubyia, one in Kakuma, Kenya and its one in Mandera, Kenya. All four sites are linked to AMREF’s office and laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya.
The further goals of AMREF Outreach Telemedicine initiative are to:
Development of a virtual referral centre
Establish partnerships with academic medical centres
Develop specialist teleconsultation support to pilot sites, particularly radiology, pathology, dermatology and opthalmology.
Produce an AMREF Telemedicine Manual as a tool to establish and maintain future telemedicine sites in austere rural areas
Develop a business plan to sustain the pilot sites after the funding period
AMREF has many more projects that are ongoing and in the works, and we will come back to talk about them from time to time. But for now, if you are interested in the work AMREF is doing, take a look at their web site at:
Because this is just a small part of what they have going on.