Most PVOs, such as “Doctors Without Borders,” depend upon volunteers for practically all of their activities, as is the case with the American Medical Team for Africa (AMTA). With the availability of modern communication capabilities and abundant travel options, these volunteers can come from literally anywhere in the country. Depending upon their mission statement, these PVOs can engage in a multiplicity of activities, including but not limited to collecting and distributing disposable medicines and supplies, providing medical equipment and instrumentation from operating room instruments to x-ray machines, providing medical/surgical clinical care, educational and safety programs for hospital workers, patients and public health officials, public seminars in HIV/AIDS, diabetes, hypertension, infectious diseases, conducting surveys for healthcare planners, equipment repair, inventory control for pharmacy, improving hospital administration practices, collaborative initiatives with university teaching hospitals for educational upgrades and exchange programs, delivering teams of specialists to SSA for provide direct patient care and arranging for complex patients to be transferred to the United States or Europe for treatment. The latter is much more difficult today because tertiary care medical centers are generally less able to simply absorb the cost as in the past.
Profile of a PVO with a Longstanding History and Track Record in Sub-Saharan Africa
AMTA is a 501(c)(3), PVO, tax-exempt organization that was founded in 1992 by Deman Rageh, who grew up in Tanzania and immigrated to Atlanta, GA and became a U.S. citizen. AMTA was founded with a mission statement of providing medical training and primary healthcare in African countries, to enhance state-of-the-art medical training for physicians, nurses and allied healthcare workers (including exchange programs), to acquire and distribute medical equipment, supplies, textbooks and journals, computers, facsimile machines and typewriters to Africa. This was done in compliance with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and in keeping with the high standards of medical practice in the United States.
AMTA’s first foray into collaboration with an African government was a field survey to Tanzania in 1993 with a team of 15 American doctors, most of whom were making their first trip to Africa. AMTA’s activities in this area have continued until present day with an expanded mission statement that includes providing advanced medical/surgical training, assistance with hospital administration, an equipment maintenance/repair program and staff/patient safety initiatives. Since this initial venture, AMTA has tried to improve its ability to match philanthropic efforts by individuals and institutions in America with the actual needs of village clinics and government-run district hospitals in remote sites in Africa. AMTA’s greatest challenge continues to be matching available resources from America with local needs in Africa. Since its inception, AMTA has donated more than $13 million worth of disposable supplies and equipment to remote district hospitals and village clinics in two dozen countries across sub-Saharan Africa. The organization has also conducted innumerable educational programs, including seminars on breast cancer, women’s health, HIV/AIDS, occupational safety and health issues for hospital workers, seminars for college and high-school students and evaluations of entire hospital systems at the request of government officials. Hopefully, this manuscript will serve to provide other PVOs and individuals with some of the lessons learned by AMTA over the past decade in an attempt to thwart frustration and encourage persistence, since the results are among the most rewarding accomplishments one can encounter in a lifetime.
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