Marina’s Picks: Amref Health Africa

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Marina’s Picks is a regular feature from CanadaHelps CEO, Marina Glogovac, highlighting some of the many charities she is personally passionate about. As a champion for smaller charities, Marina wants to help fellow Canadians discover some of the lesser known organizations that are working to make our communities better.

 Amref Health Africa in Canada

In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly formalized August 19th as World Humanitarian Day (WHD), designated in memory of the 22 lives lost in a bomb attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003. WHD brings together partners from across the humanitarian system to advocate for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers. 

With WHD in mind, I reached out to Dave Callan, Director of Fundraising and Marketing for Amref Health Africa Canada, to speak to him about the organization’s founding, the vital humanitarian aid it provides, and the impact of the pandemic.

Amref Health Africa is the largest African-led international health organization on the continent, providing training and health services to over 35 African countries. Founded in 1957 as the Flying Doctors of East Africa to bring critical health services to remote communities, Amref Health Africa now delivers preventative, community-based health care. They also have their own fully accredited University in Nairobi, Kenya where they focus on training for the health care sector. The Canadian office was founded in 1973 and currently supports projects in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, and Tanzania, along with support for many of the other 35 countries where Amref Health Africa works. 

One of the keys to the organization’s impact is its African-led approach. “We are deeply rooted in the communities where we work,” Callan says. “We embrace tradition and innovation to respond to the health challenges faced in remote and hard-to-reach areas.” 

The organization’s focus is on the areas of greatest need, including maternal, newborn and child health, sexual reproductive health and rights, clean water, sanitation and hygiene, health worker training, HIV and TB, malaria, and surgical and clinical outreach. Africa accounts for 200,000 of the 289,000 women and teenage girls who die every year of complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. 4.6 million children under the age of five die from mostly preventable diseases in Africa every year. “Our health-focused projects reached more than 5.3 million people in 2019 alone,” says Callan. “In recognition of our effective programming, we have been awarded the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the Bill and Melinda Gates Global Health Award, and an organizational award for outstanding performance by the World Federation of Public Health Associations.”

For many organizations like Amref, many resources were stretched or even redeployed throughout the pandemic, hampering some services. “Basic healthcare in our case was disrupted or paused at times,” says Callan. “COVID-19 has impacted our work by creating additional challenges such as inaccurate information about vaccines. Our community health care workers report a significant reduction in routine and basic healthcare services due to resource disruptions and misinformation. There is community-level fear of acquiring COVID-19 when visiting a local health clinic—in turn, causing many pregnant women to avoid prenatal care etc. Reports of domestic violence and teen pregnancy are on the rise as many schools have been closed and sex education and training are not happening as consistently as it was pre-pandemic. Overall, women and girls in our communities have been disproportionately impacted, such as with the loss of income as mothers have stopped working to care for their children who were not in school due to closures.” 

Luckily from a fundraising perspective, the Canadian office moved to virtual events and online giving fairly successfully. We are very grateful to our donors that continue to support Amref Health Africa. However, losing some donors from events who traditionally made larger gifts worries Callan, as does the prospect of losing the “temporary support to charities—through government wage subsidies,” which will likely slow and end in 2021, creating some potential challenges for early 2022.

Quantifying and unearthing the significant and varied losses due to the pandemic will take years to truly evaluate. “For most charities, building on past successes, processes and gains moves the mission forward. COVID-19 has undermined that for many in operations, resources, fundraising, staff, talent and partnerships.” 

In Canada, where businesses are reopening and social gatherings are slowly returning, there is hope that in-person fundraising events will start to emerge allowing charities to access this revenue once more. But the pandemic has been a reminder of the interconnectedness of our world, and the things that have helped Canada tackle this virus-like access to abundant vaccines — are still needed around the world. The work of Amref Health Africa, and other humanitarian organizations, is making real change for issues that don’t always dominate headlines but are nonetheless important. WHD is a fantastic opportunity for us to reflect on the work that is being done around the globe to promote human welfare and advocate for those less fortunate.


Head shot of CanadaHelps President and CEO Marina Glogovac.


Learn more about Amref Health Africa on their Charity Profile page.

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