More than an air ambulance

by Amref Health Africa

African leadership

‘Much has changed since the Flying Doctors first started. The infrastructure in the countries where we work has improved: there are far more roads. And there are plenty of trained doctors and carers from local communities. The air ambulance isn’t needed as urgently as before. Amref Flying Doctors has moved on and is now a fully-fledged NGO. We’re working to strengthen entire healthcare systems in the countries where we’re active. We lobby local governments, advise organisations, train care providers, provide basic care services and support the local population.’

‘Instead of providing ad hoc assistance, we now work with a system approach. That’s much more sustainable and has far more potential. The fact that Amref Flying Doctors genuinely builds on the strengths of local communities is one of the reasons why I wanted to work here. The entire leadership of our organisation is in Africa.’

Veerle Ver Loren.
Veerle Ver Loren van Themaat, Head of Advocacy at Amref Flying Doctors NL

Cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

‘The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a major partner. We often talk about our work together. If colleagues or people with lived experience are visiting the Netherlands we often try to make the most of that opportunity. Our people have given lectures at the ministry, for example.

The embassies in the countries where we work are very important to us. A good example is a Ugandan youth council we support. Though 70% of Uganda’s population is younger than 30, their opinions are seldom heard. In particular on sensitive subjects, like contraception. This council wants to bring about change. They organised dialogues in the community to find out about the problems and needs of young people The council wanted to present the resulting recommendations to parliament. The embassy was involved in this. It can open the right doors, and has clout. The issue was even taken up by the national newspapers.’

Women and girls

‘In our work we focus a lot of our attention on women and girls. There are various reasons for this. First, women often have poor access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services. This is because of the taboos associated with these services, and the unequal relationship between men and women. Parents and husbands sometimes forbid women and girls from using contraceptives. And women and girls are confronted with specific problems. In some countries, girls are still circumcised. Domestic violence is common. Child marriage and early motherhood – girls becoming pregnant before their bodies are fully matured – pose serious threats.’


‘In the Malawi district of Mangochi, for example, half of girls under 18 are both wives and mothers. Venereal disease, HIV/AIDS and fistulas are widespread. These women and girls cannot take a full part in society. Yet the country desperately needs them for its further economic development. They’re needed, but they often have no choice but to stand on the sidelines. Fortunately we are seeing more girls completing their education, or refusing to be circumcised.’

Article first published on

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