Reaching communities in Africa since 1978
PATH’s work reached Africa for the first time in 1978. We were developing family-planning materials for low-literate audiences in Asia, and at the end of two successful years, an opportunity opened up to engage in similar projects in Kenya, Botswana, and Sierra Leone. With only exploratory funding, PATH took the first step into what would become one of our most significant areas of work. Since then, our presence in Africa has expanded, and we have established local offices to help us better serve our partners and collaborators.
Africa’s health needs are complex; the AIDS epidemic, malaria, poor reproductive health, and weak immunization systems have a cumulative economic as well as human cost. A lack of resources, longstanding traditions that contribute to poor health choices, and a public health infrastructure damaged by war and poverty are obstacles to hope.
For more than 20 years, PATH has built on our original focus on reproductive health and innovative, responsive communications activities to include products that give women power to protect themselves against HIV, programs that bring tests for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections to people who are far from health services, and tools that allow local governments and communities to strengthen their own capacity to improve health in the region.
HIV and AIDS
The global AIDS pandemic hit Africa early and hard. HIV continues to spread at a high rate on the continent—especially among women—and AIDS continues to devastate families there, leaving children without parents and passing from mothers to their newborn infants. PATH is part of the global effort to halt the spread of HIV by creating new forms of protection and improving on the existing ones. Some of our projects, like our interactive theater programs, draw communities into dialogue about how they can protect themselves just by making new choices.
Vaccines and immunization
PATH has worked to respond to Africa’s changing health needs since 1978. Photo: Molly Mort.
Immunization is doubly challenging in Africa. The lack of infrastructure—electricity, ready transportation—in remote areas stretches the cold chain system used to transport temperature-sensitive vaccines to its limit. The same remoteness makes it difficult for parents to make sure their children get necessary vaccines.
PATH’s focus on improving the cold chain worldwide has a special impact on Africa. We also bring to bear our experience strengthening the systems that catch young children before they slip through the safety net of basic immunization. Our vaccine development initiatives speak to some of the biggest killers in Africa: malaria, meningitis, rotavirus.
Young people are a powerful force for global change. They have incredible influence over each other and will become the next generation of leaders, workers, teachers, and parents. PATH uses creativity and multimedia to engage adolescents in thinking about better health and making choices that will help them reach their full potential. Some of our interventions are as simple as a comic book that can travel from hand to young hand, forming the basis for after-school conversations and giving young people better stories to tell about themselves. Others affect the environment in which adolescents grow up, providing them with health services that are geared toward their needs or with resources to answer their questions about sexuality.
Maternal and reproductive health
Women in Africa face societal as well as resource-related barriers to good health. Gender inequities can make it difficult for them to take advantage of the reproductive health services that exist and to ask for new services, no matter how badly needed. Women lack the power to negotiate the use of contraceptives that can protect them against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
PATH projects that address these issues include a female condom that is more comfortable, easier to use, and cheaper than currently available options and clean-delivery kits that reduce the risk of infection associated with at-home births. We also lead an alliance of nongovernmental organizations working to make cervical cancer screening as effective in developing countries as it is in the industrialized world.
A history of collaboration
PATH’s work in Africa supports local communities, governments, and organizations and helps them accomplish their goals. From our first project in the region, collaboration and cooperation have been essential. The strength of these relationships can be seen today in projects that expand beyond our involvement and live on their own—like the AMKENI Project, where the strategies taken up by participating communities have been adopted by their neighbors. The answers to Africa’s health needs come from the potential already present—we are proud to help build accessible, effective tools that bring that potential to life.