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Healthcare in rural Africa

406. Kirsty Luescher
407. Simon Tolmie

A couple from Glasgow who set up On Call Africa, a charity dedicated to providing medical care in rural populations in Zambia that has helped over 30,000 patients and trains 18 healthcare workers. Kirsty & Simon will received their award from the Prime Minister at an event to mark St Andrew's Day in Downing Street tonight.

Kirsty Luescher, 35, and Simon Tolmie, 33, both UK trained doctors, set up On Call Africa (OCA) in 2010 to provide essential medical care in the Southern province of Zambia where there are little or no access to health services. Their charity has a base in Livingstone from where they send teams of volunteer doctors and nurses to areas most in need.

Kirsty and Simon visited Africa in 2009 and learned that many rural areas were cut off from existing medical help. Working with a charity in Tanzania that ran mobile health clinics, and on a project in Malawi, they were inspired to do something similar themselves. The couple, alongside other trustees of the charity, have inspired 113 volunteers to help the organisation, including 7 Zambian based project coordinators, 53 local volunteers from the region and 60 people from the UK who have travelled to Zambia.

The charity has worked closely with the Zambian Ministry of Health to identify the areas in most need of attention. As a founder and Chair of the Board of Trustees, Kirsty is responsible for coordinating all volunteers, supporting on the ground operations, budgeting and stock control. She spends two days a week volunteering for the charity, alongside her job as a palliative care specialist at Strathcarron Hospice in Denny, Stirlingshire. Simon, a co-founder of the charity, is currently training as a GP and devotes his free time to preparing the charity accounts, sitting on the board of trustees in the role of treasurer, and offering remote mechanical support to keep On Call Africa’s vehicles on the roads.

Simon and Kirsty have both spent over 13 months in Zambia setting up the project and directly delivering medical care on the mobile clinics. They now return annually to support the on-going running of the project. Zambia’s huge land mass and difficult terrain makes it impossible for those living in remote and isolated areas to access a doctor or nurse. Using mobile medical clinics, On Call Africa is able to provide a wide range of medical services, including midwifery, HIV testing and counselling, family planning advice and immunisations for children. Its volunteers also provide health education to local people on subjects such as clean drinking water, and are training up local Zambian health care workers to tackle the long term issue of healthcare in the region.

Zambia is ranked 141 of 187 countries on the Human Development Index, and is particularly badly affected by HIV epidemics and high rates of tuberculosis, malaria and malnutrition. The country has only 1 doctor per 16,000 people, compared with 1 per 600 in UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“Kirsty and Simon are carrying on a strong Scottish tradition of being a force for good around the world. With On Call Africa they are helping people in some of the most rural areas of Zambia to access vital health care and in some cases saving lives. By inspiring and training local people as well as their UK supporters they are enabling the people of Zambia to make a difference in their own communities. I am delighted to recognise their service as we mark St Andrew’s Day.”

Kirsty and Simon said:

“We feel that accessing health care should be a basic human right for everyone. Our project simply brings this health care to areas that need it most. The communities we work with are incredibly motivated to improve their own health and it is fantastic to return every year and see the project going from strength to strength. It has always been a huge team effort and we are honoured to accept the point of light award on behalf of all of our UK and Zambian volunteers who have dedicated endless time and share our passion for improving medical care in rural Zambia.”

The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.

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