NHS staff from all over Wales have been volunteering to provide care and support to communities in Africa as part of the Assembly Government’s Wales for Africa initiative.
More than 23 partnerships have been developed between Welsh hospitals and healthcare settings in Africa since the initiative was launched in 2006.
These include links made by NHS staff in Gwent, Hay on Wye and Powys who have helped to provide special baby care units, training for midwives and access to health facilities in Gambia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Lesotho, reducing the number of women and babies who die during pregnancy and childbirth each year.
Counsel General John Griffiths has paid tribute to staff involved in the innovative project.
Speaking at the Wales for Africa Health Links Group conference – which brings together NHS staff, academics and voluntary organisations - Mr Griffiths said:
“The Assembly Government is very proud of the excellent work being done by health professionals in Wales to support their African counterparts. We have been happy to provide annual funding of £50,000 for link activities through our health department, and assistance for the very dedicated Wales for Africa Health Links Group.
“I am delighted to help unveil the second Wales for Africa Health Links Annual Report which contains an inspiring collection of the achievements to date. One particularly humbling example is the commitment made to developing and improving eye care services in Ethiopia and in turn, North Wales, through the sharing of clinical knowledge, skills and working practices.
“All of these activities are distinctive because they are not just a one-way street of aid to Africa. They are mutually beneficial partnerships. We know that the individuals from Wales who are involved in this work are learning and developing new skills which they bring back into their workplaces and organisations across Wales.”
The conference includes a series of workshops to look at ways of using Welsh links to improve maternal health and combat life-threatening diseases common in disadvantaged African communities such as HIV, AIDS, and malaria.
Other workshops are aimed at tackling issues such as poverty and hunger, gender equality in health practices, and child health, which could mean enabling Welsh healthcare students to become involved in future health links.
The Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Jewell added:
“A huge effort is being made by many health professionals, individuals and organisations across Wales to help support healthcare workers in Africa and to strengthen healthcare delivery to some of the poorest in African societies.
“So far over 500 volunteer health professionals from Wales have given their time and expertise for the health links. And it is not only Africa that benefits from these links. Health professionals here who take part in this work are stretching their clinical 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 tropical diseases and chronic conditions.”