Celebrating 16 Years of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize

(Photo: Amref Health Africa)


By Bob Kelty, Executive Director, Amref Health Africa in the USA


One of our dreams at Amref Health Africa is to launch a university – a goal we hope to achieve within the next few years. In partnership with both African and North American academic institutions, we are among the foremost trainers of all types of health cadres in Africa – doctors, nurses, midwives, community health workers and more. 


The glimmer of an Amref Health Africa university was ignited back in 1999 when we were awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, as it allowed us to exponentially expand our training capabilities and build the foundation for a future African academic institution.


At the time of the award in 1999, Amref Health Africa used the Hilton funds to strengthen and expand its prevention, treatment and research programs which addressed the two major health and development issues facing Africa: HIV/AIDS and malaria. We implemented prevention and treatment strategies that maximized our positive impact on the lives of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, most especially children and women of child-bearing age. Another goal was to improve the quality of health care for all people, especially marginalized populations in remote areas, by expanding our programs in order to develop surgical specialists and train thousands of other health workers, all of whom, in turn, trained tens of thousands more at the community level. 


Increasing our capacity building function through the Hilton Humanitarian Prize allowed us to scale up our health worker training programs and health systems strengthening initiatives. It was this initial focus on building the health work force in Africa that led us to create one of our most successful programs - our innovative eLearning program for nurses in Kenya. Since its start in 2005, this program has graduated over 7,000 nurses in Kenya, and is now run by the Nursing Council of Kenya, serving as a best practices model for 10 other countries in Africa. 


(Photo: Amref  Health Africa/Paolo Patruno, Birth is a Dream)


October 20, 2015 –  Our eLearning program provided the basis for Amref Health Africa’s current mLearning initiative, the Health Enablement and Learning Platform (HELP), which is currently training 3,000 community health workers in Kenya, with plans to train many more in the coming years. Through this program, community health workers, respected members of the community who are selected by the community itself, are trained in basic health care, and are often the only health care ‘professionals’ ever seen by the majority of Africans who live in remote, rural areas. Community health workers provide critical education and prevention information to their constituents, as well as diagnosing rudimentary diseases (malaria, pneumonia, TB) and referring individuals to health facilities. 


They are the frontline of care, whose knowledge about family planning and common illnesses, can positively impact the health status of an entire community. True to our original use of the Hilton award money, this mHealth program will allow us to rapidly scale up the number of community health workers in a relatively short period of time, improving the health of ever greater numbers of people in remote communities across Africa. 


With the launch of our global maternal health campaign in 2011, Stand Up for African Mothers, we are expanding to also train midwives – 15,000 by 2018. Their positive impact on the health of pregnant women is significant, as demonstrated by reduced maternal mortality rates when skilled birth attendants are present at delivery. A skilled midwife can visit up to 500 women and deliver up to 100 babies per year. Having already trained 7,000 midwives since the campaign’s debut, the additional 8,000 midwives currently in training will eventually provide care and birth assistance to over four million African women per year.


These are only a few highlights of how winning the Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 1999 helped set Amref Health Africa on its distinct path to today – finding innovative African solutions to the critical shortage of healthcare workers across the continent. We continue to be grateful for the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize – an award which has contributed to our increased visibility in the global health community, helped us become the largest African-led health development organization on the continent, and fueled the success of our organization in our ongoing efforts to create lasting health change in Africa.