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WASHINGTON -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced today that the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) will receive the $1 million 2005 Gates Award for Global Health for their extraordinary efforts for nearly 50 years to improve health in Africa’s poorest communities, build local health infrastructure, and document their success to guide others. The Gates Award recognizes extraordinary achievement in improving health in the developing world, and is the world’s largest prize for international health.
AMREF was selected from more than 85 nominees by a jury of international public health leaders. The award will be presented today in Washington, D.C., at the Global Health Council’s 32nd annual international conference. William H. Gates, Sr., co-chair of the Gates Foundation, will present the award to Dr. Miriam Were, chair of AMREF’s board of directors. The Gates Award is administered by the Global Health Council.
AMREF, founded in 1957 as Flying Doctors of East Africa, is the oldest and largest aid organization based in Africa and led by Africans. AMREF was chosen to receive the 2005 Gates Award because of its innovative work for nearly 50 years to improve health in some of Africa’s poorest communities. AMREF’s programs reach millions of people each year, and have been widely recognized and documented as some of the greatest success stories in African health.
“Health is the beacon that will lead Africa out of poverty,” said Dr. Were, AMREF chair and a community health specialist who has led country-level health programs in Africa for WHO and UNICEF. “We are humbled by this award, and we accept it on behalf of the communities we work with.”
AMREF’s staff of more than 600 physicians, nurses, researchers, nutritionists, public health workers, and sanitation workers help communities build health systems to address many of the most serious health challenges facing Africa.
“Bill and I established this award to draw the world’s attention to the greatest success stories in global health–the unsung heroes whose work has opened new doors and new possibilities for improving health in developing countries,” said Melinda Gates, co-founder of the foundation. “We congratulate AMREF on its accomplishments, which are an inspiration for the world.”
Dr. Nils Daulaire, president and CEO of the Global Health Council, said: “Extraordinary challenges call for extraordinary efforts. AMREF’s work is impressive for its massive scope, and doubly impressive for its well-documented impact.”
In its early years as Flying Doctors, AMREF airlifted surgeons to perform emergency procedures in African towns and villages without access to hospitals, a service that continues today. Since then, AMREF has greatly expanded its scope, and today operates programs addressing HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, clean water and sanitation, family health, training health care workers, and emergency relief.
Since its founding, AMREF has embraced technology as integral to improving health. AMREF owns a fleet of planes specially equipped with intensive care units, and it established Africa’s first and largest two-way radio communications network. Recently, AMREF has begun installing videoconferencing facilities in rural areas, so that doctors and patients can consult with specialists in major cities.
One of AMREF’s largest initiatives trains rural health workers who have little or no formal medical education. In addition, more than 20 countries send their district health workers to Nairobi for AMREF’s year-long Diploma in Community Health program. The organization also publishes a series of field manuals that give practical instructions for safely and correctly caring for serious diseases.
AMREF regularly conducts evaluation research to guide the development of its programs, and its findings influence health policy worldwide. For example, AMREF demonstrated in Tanzania that the rate of HIV infection could be cut up to 40 percent by encouraging people to seek testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. As part of its work on malaria, AMREF collected the first data showing that insecticide-treated bed nets are a cost-effective method for protecting young children from the disease. Recently, AMREF led East African consultations for the Commission for Africa established by U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Twelve national offices in North America and Europe, including AMREF USA in New York, help to raise support for AMREF from individuals, foundations, corporations, and government agencies.
About the Gates Award for Global Health
The Gates Award was established by Bill and Melinda Gates in 2000 to draw attention to some of the most effective and inspiring efforts in improving global health.
Previous recipients of the Gates Award include the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (2004) for community-based health programs; the Brazilian National AIDS Program (2003) for its integrated approach to HIV prevention and treatment; the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International (2002) for contributions to polio eradication; and the ICDDR,B Center for Health and Population Research in Bangladesh (2001) for the discovery of a simple rehydration therapy that has saved millions of lives.