ALIMA: African-led humanitarian response

ALIMA: African-led humanitarian response

February 9, 2016  |  By Peter Morrison, Director, Relief and Special Projects, The ELMA Philanthropies

The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) is a partner of growing prominence in The ELMA Relief Foundation’s portfolio. ALIMA is a medical humanitarian NGO focused on three areas:

  • Acute crises, such as the Ebola outbreak or conflict in northern Mali
  • Chronic ongoing emergencies, such as constant high levels of malnutrition exacerbated by seasonal malaria
  • Innovation and research, such as clinical trials on Ebola vaccines

Across these focus areas, ALIMA is an emerging leader in the humanitarian community, particularly through its strong commitment to partnership.

What does ALIMA mean by partnership?

ALIMA works wherever possible with local people and organizations enabling efficient and direct response during or following an acute emergency, and building local capacity to sustain support to communities once the crisis subsides. Partnerships with local organizations and staff enable ALIMA to implement and sustain effective programming by leveraging local knowledge, skills and relationships.

These relationships give ALIMA unique operational flexibility when launching new emergency interventions, as ALIMA can draw upon both its own pool of humanitarian responders and highly qualified staff within its partner organizations.

ALIMA’s staff members—whether providing services in their own communities or in communities in neighboring countries—are the driving force of organization’s success.

In 2015, I had the opportunity to visit Burkina Faso and Guinea to observe the high quality medical care being provided by ALIMA staffers hailing from all over Africa. I’d like to tell you about some of those I met.

Nurse Kigoma

Nurse Kigoma

In Guinea, I met Patient Kigoma, a nurse from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a 10 year veteran of the humanitarian sector. We first met in the pediatric ward of the N’zerekore district hospital. During the Ebola outbreak, health facilities in Guinea saw a drop-off in patients seeking care, and ALIMA was supporting district authorities to resume and reinforce pediatric services. The day I arrived, the pediatric ward was literally overflowing to the point where ALIMA had set up a large tent in the hospital parking lot to absorb the overflow. As I walked into the tent, the atmosphere was stressful, hot, and crowded.

ALIMA 6.jpg

Patient wasn’t fazed. From the moment he stepped into the ward, he was intensely focused and engaged. Moving from bed to bed, he was constantly scanning, seeing everything. He stopped to speak with patients, checking vital signs of a new admission, encouraging an overwhelmed mother with a kind word and a smile, and providing gentle reminders to caregivers and medical staff on instructions he had given them that morning. Following rounds, he also proved to be a brilliant and engaging teacher, leading training sessions in pediatric care to hospital staff.

Doctor Douna

Doctor Douna

While in Guinea, I also met Dr. Douna, a pediatrician, originally from Chad. Dr. Douna is one of only eight Chadian pediatricians in the world, and is currently pursuing specialist training in South Africa. I met him on his first day in Guinea, where things were off to a rough start. In spite of his best efforts, several children who had been brought in for care at an advanced stage of illness passed away. It was a very long day and by the time Dr. Douna had finished his work and returned to ALIMA’s base for dinner, it was past nine o’clock at night.


He sat down to eat, clearly exhausted, and I asked him how a Chadian doctor training in South Africa had ended up in Guinea. He explained that his ultimate goal is to return to Chad to serve the children of his country as a pediatrician. While receiving training in South Africa, he realized that many of the resources he had there were not accessible in Chad. If he was to realize his goal, he needed experience in settings more similar to what he would experience at home. Following this realization, he started looking for opportunities and soon discovered ALIMA, which led to his joining the mission in Guinea.

I noticed that his night did not end after that conversation. At 9:30, while the rest of the team was relaxing, having a beer, and heading to bed, he walked over to his bag, pulled out his laptop, and began reading through electronic copies of medical textbooks, studying up for the day to come.

Doctor Fanta

Doctor Fanta

Dr. Fanta is another one of the many talented physicians who works with ALIMA, and is one of the most remarkable and qualified women I have ever met. Born and raised in Burkina Faso, after receiving her MD in Ouagadougou, she went on to successfully pursue two Master’s degrees – one in Egypt in nutrition and one in France in health economics.


Upon completion of her education, Dr. Fanta’s options for employment were limitless, but she chose to return to Burkina Faso, where after several humanitarian missions she was discovered by ALIMA. She now wears two ALIMA hats as Medical Coordinator and Head of Mission for Burkina Faso.

In September, when Burkina Faso experienced a coup d’état, I received a request from ALIMA’s Emergency Desk asking for support for the team responding to the crisis. Across Ouagadougou, medical staff were either striking to protest the coup or staying home out of fear of violence. ALIMA was providing support to local hospitals to ensure that pregnant mothers were able to safely deliver and that other emergency cases, including people wounded in the protests, were properly managed.

As I was reviewing the request, I asked which ALIMA staff member was responsible for running the response in Ouagadougou.

“Why, Dr. Fanta of course.”

I have rarely felt so relaxed in recommending ELMA support for an emergency response knowing that such a capable individual as Dr. Fanta was leading the charge.

ELMA's partnership with ALIMA

ALIMA’s commitment to hiring African staff to work in their communities and in neighboring countries embodies ELMA’s approach to identifying and supporting African-led solutions to African challenges. We encourage other philanthropies to join The ELMA Relief Foundation in supporting ALIMA’s expanding global emergency responses and organizational growth and sustainability.