Plan which sends U.S doctors to Africa may soon be coming North
October 4, 2017
Inspired by an Ethiopian-American, Canadian doctors could soon be travelling to Africa to provide primary care, strategic planning, education, training and capacity-building.
Ted Alemayhu, who is attempting to become the first African-born representative in the United States House of Representatives, said Canadian Doctors for Africa (CDFA) will function in the same way as U.S Doctors for Africa (USDFA) which he started 16 years ago.
He moved from Ethiopia to California at age 14 in 1987 and resides in Los Angeles with his wife and their eight-year-old son.
“I started the dialogue about five years ago to get this organization up and running in Canada, but I was waiting for the right partners to come on board,” Alemayhu said. “We are still working on finalizing that process and an announcement will be made in the near future.”
USDFA mobilizes volunteers and other resources from the United States and strategically distributes these resources in regions where they are most needed. Because the quality of care depends on understanding the cultures and contexts in which it is provided, each response is designed and implemented to meet local needs.
USDFA also responds to domestic natural disasters by mobilizing and distributing critical medical resources to areas that have been impacted by these events.
Alemayhu started the organization in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic that was ravaging Africa about 20 years ago.
“I have zero background in medicine, but I have enjoyed a blessed life living in Los Angeles,” he said. “From having nothing when I came, I pretty much having everything I wanted. So I felt I had a responsibility to do something in my life to benefit Africa.”
Working in the hotel sector after completing hotel management studies wasn’t fulfilling.
“I felt there was something more I should be doing with my life,” he said. “We have such a uniquely crafted contract that could expire at any time without notice.”
A front page story in the Los Angeles Times caught his attention and was the catalyst for launching USDFA.
“The article was about Africa and it talked about the ratio of doctors to people living in Africa,” he pointed out. “It was one doctor to every 150,000 people in most African countries. That was startling. I asked myself how many doctors and nurses there were in the United States and the more research I did, I felt I had found something I could do. We have many medical professionals across the United States, but I had to come up with a way to get them to Africa.”
Though he thought nobody was going to take him seriously, nothing was going to stop Alemayhu from making his pitch.
His first target was Dr. Erik Fleischman who is a friend.
“I needed to find doctors who would believe in my vision and when I called Erik, he immediately asked what he could do,” Alemayhu recalled. “I told him I would love if he could go to Africa for a few weeks and that I would raise the money for his airfare, accommodation and meals. I also asked him to call some of his colleagues to see if they would be interested in the mission.”
Within a short period of time, 13 doctors signed up.
Now, he had to secure the funds to send them.
When a friend suggested a comedy show as a fundraiser, he agreed and nearly 300 people showed up at the Newport club.
“The house was full and we had to turn people away,” Alemayhu remembered.
The money raised was used to send doctors to Ethiopia, South Africa and Kenya for three weeks.
“These doctors went to places for the first time to save the lives of those they never met,” he said. “It was an incredibly successful mission.”
Nearly a decade ago, USDFA formed a strategic partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative campaign to increase low-cost quality treatment for HIV/AIDS patients.
They also organized the first ever African First Ladies Health Summit in California eight years ago.
In 2014, USDFA staged a three-day Pan African Medical Doctors & Health Care Conference in Ethiopia.
Alemayhu made his first visit to Canada two weeks ago. He was the keynote speaker at the fourth annual Bikila Awards at Daniels Spectrum.
“The man in whose honour this ceremony is been held was a hero not only to our country people, but the entire African continent which he put in a most prestigious spot as he ran barefooted winning race after race after race,” he said. “It was because of him that the world learnt more about Ethiopia.”
Ecstatic to be delivering his first ever keynote address, Alemayhu also paid tribute to the award winners that included Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
“You deserve this moment of appreciation and celebration,” he told them. “You have achieved more that you recognize yourself. You have inspired many people through music and other areas. You worked hard and stayed determined, committed and disciplined. You are an extraordinary example to all of us.”
Though his stay was limited to just over 24 hours, Alemayhu said he was blown away by what he saw north of the border.
“Canada is the most spectacular, beautiful and amazing country I have been to,” he said. “Most Americans think Canada doesn’t have anything and that is why they go to Europe and other places. I totally loved what I saw and just can’t wait to get back.”
Last August, Alemayhu announced he’s running as an independent candidate in California’s 37th congressional district.
“I have done what I could to support people and, hopefully, I have made a small difference in somebody’s life somewhere in Africa,” said Alemayhu who testified before the U.S Congress to help mobilize global partnerships in the wake of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa. “As I did that work, I had to deal with politicians and some of them are absolutely clueless. If I really wanted to make a difference, I decided I have got to take that step and run for U.S Congress.”
Voters will elect 53 candidates in the California elections on November 6, 2018.