A huge effort is being made by many health professionals, individuals and organisations across Wales to help support health workers in Africa and to strengthen health improvement and healthcare in African societies.
So far more than 500 volunteer health professionals from Wales have given their time and expertise as part of the Wales for Africa programme.
It’s not only Africa that benefits from this. Health professionals from Wales who take part in this work are developing new skills and learning to think creatively in situations where few material resources are available.
They gain experience in training, leadership, organisational management and problem solving as well as gaining a better understanding of health problems in sub-Saharan Africa.
The experience usually brings great a sense of personal achievement and motivation and many feel that it helps to put problems in the UK into perspective.
I was delighted take part in visits to two of the countries that Wales has longstanding ties with, Lesotho and Uganda. I was privileged to see how our links with these countries have lead to consistent approaches in dealing with common issues like HIV and Aids; maternal and child health and mortality; ambulance transport, and public health prevention programmes.
Later this year I hope to visit southern Ethiopia to look at the work being done to improve maternity care services through one of our longest established programmes - the Gwent Southern Ethiopia Link, led by Biku Ghosh who is also the chairman of Wales for Africa.
The Welsh Government is committed to developing links through Wales for Africa because we want Wales to be a responsible global citizen and support world-wide health ambitions, and also because of the benefits that support for international sustainable development has for Welsh people.
Policy-makers in Wales have a part to play in promoting sustainable development internationally and addressing issues such as climate change and renewable energy at a global level. Helping to tackle world poverty and providing assistance when there is major disaster or emergency is part of being a good international citizen.
Many of the problems which affect us such as war and conflict, international crime, refugees, the trade in illegal drugs and the spread of diseases like HIV and AIDS are caused or made worse by poverty in developing countries. Eradicating global poverty would benefit everybody. Projects across Wales have received a total of £100,000 from the Welsh Government to help improve the health of some of the most disadvantaged people in Africa.
In the latest round of grants 11 projects have been awarded funding under the Wales 4 Africa Health Links scheme, launched in 2006.
These grants have enabled individuals and organisations (including NHS Wales) to work in 18 sub-Saharan African countries, supporting partner countries in addressing problems in their healthcare systems and engaging in a wide range of activities.
The main thrust of the Health Links programme has been in training frontline healthcare workers, especially those working in rural communities. In 2010-11 nearly 1,000 frontline health workers were trained, including 570 community health workers, 130 midwives and their trainers, as well as many health officers, nurses, laboratory technicians and doctors in essential care.
By continuing to develop links between Welsh and African communities and hospitals, Wales is contributing to the delivery of the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals. It would be good to ensure that all NHS Wales health boards and trusts will corporately commit to supporting one of the sub-Saharan links.