Port Hope resident works with organization providing health care in rural Africa

This story was published in Northumberland News.

Port Hope resident works with organization providing health care in rural Africa

August 31, 2017

By Karen Longwell, Northumberland News

Portrait photo of Rachel Lancaster, Amref Health Africa Director of Fundraising & Marketing

PORT HOPE -- Rachel Lancaster, at home in Port Hope, recently became the director of marketing for Amref Health Africa, an organization that brings health care to remote areas in Africa. - Karen Longwell / Metroland

PORT HOPE — The chance to help women and children gain access to health care in rural Africa drew Port Hope resident Rachel Lancaster to a change in career direction.

After working in advertising and the financial sector, Lancaster took on the role as director of marketing for Amref Health Africa this year. She had previously worked at Amref from 2010 to 2013, and returned in 2017 to set up the marketing and fundraising department.

Lancaster has a background in strategic planning, direct marketing and advertising. She has led high-profile initiatives within the financial sector with TD and RBC Royal Banks, as well as helped not-for-profit organizations like Dignitas International, the Ontario Association of Health Care Centres and Plan Canada establish effective branding and fundraising strategies. She moved to Port Hope in 2014, and her two teenaged sons attend Trinity College School.

While she enjoyed her work in the private sector, Lancaster knew she would eventually like to use her skills in the non-profit sector. She was aware of the work Amref did bringing health care to remote areas. Amref Health Africa has been around for 60 years, but many people may not know about the work the organization does, said Lancaster. They started with three doctors flying in to rural areas in Africa to provide health care in 1956. At that time, there was one doctor to every 30,000 people in East Africa.

“It was a marketers dream to have such a great story to tell,” she said.

Currently they have two main focuses: the health of mothers and their babies; and health of young girls.

“They do phenomenal work.”

Addressing the lack of access to basic health care for mothers and children in rural and remote Africa, Amref partnered with Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC), The Hospital for Sick Children’s (SickKids) Centre for Global Child Health and WaterAid Canada in a project called The Canada-Africa Initiative to Address Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality. The project has the support of $24.9 million from the federal government, which is 85 per cent of the total project budget. The four-year project (2016 to 2020) aims to directly reach 1.7 million women, children and men across 20 districts in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania. The partners are working together with African communities to improve the delivery of essential health services to moms, pregnant women, newborns and children under the age of five; increase the use of these improved health services; and improve the availability of nutritious foods and supplements. Amref is currently fundraising for the remainder of the project funding.

Amref is commemorating their 60th anniversary with a fundraising campaign to train more community health workers in the area of maternal and child health, along with sexual and reproductive health and rights. The community health workers are appointed by the community and trained by Amref to go to door-to-door to bring health-care information.

Working in the area of health care for young girls, Amref advocates against harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C). They also work to prevent early and forced child marriages that can often lead to adolescent pregnancy. When young girls become pregnant before their body is ready and/or are subjected to FGM/C, they are vulnerable to many debilitating or even life-threatening health issues.

Amref has had success with an Alternative Rite of Passage model that maintains the cultural celebrations surrounding a girls transition into womanhood, but without FGM/C.