How One Abbott Employee's Journey Helped Transform Healthcare in Tanzania

After a trip to East Africa, Andy Wilson was inspired to serve the community and help step up Abbott's global efforts.

BUILDING LIFE AND COMMUNITY     |    Aug. 14, 2019

It was 2001 when Andy Wilson, now the vice president of the Abbott Fund Tanzania, traveled to Kenya to visit a friend. Though he was excited to see East Africa for the first time, it didn't take him long to recognize that there was a dire need for better healthcare. The region lacked sufficient medical services and was facing a widespread and growing HIV/AIDS pandemic.

That trip to Kenya compelled Andy to take his professional skills to the next level, serving those in need far from his Pennsylvania home: "I was profoundly moved by what I saw. I needed to do something that made a difference in addressing the key challenges there," Andy says. "I got it in my head that I wanted to help strengthen healthcare in Africa, to help physicians treat patients with HIV."

Andy had already been at Abbott for more than 12 years in many different roles, starting in sales before working his way up to various management positions. Once Andy returned stateside, he did extensive research on health issues in Africa and how he could help. He found out that Abbott's foundation, the Abbott Fund, was already working in Tanzania, including supporting children affected by HIV/AIDS and addressing key needs in the country's health system.

He reached out to the Abbott Fund, and found out there was an opportunity to get involved.  "I started working with the Abbott Fund on a three-month assignment," Andy says. "That was in 2004, and I haven't left."

With the Abbott Fund's passion for innovation and Andy's drive and creativity, his team brought major healthcare advancements to a country that desperately needed it.

Abbott's Efforts Help Thousands in Tanzania

The partnership between the Abbott Fund and the Government of Tanzania began in 2000, a time when the Tanzanian healthcare system needed support in several critical areas. Abbott and the Abbott Fund made a commitment to help build something from the ground up. By 2003, the partnership was funding infrastructure improvements at Muhimbili National Hospital, creating a modern, three-story outpatient department and installing its first IT system. That same year, Abbott began modernizing the national hospital's Central Pathology Laboratory (CPL) to provide world-class diagnostic services.

To extend the reach of modern testing and monitoring to every corner of Tanzania, labs at 23 regional hospitals were either built or renovated. But as Andy says, "Building the building is just the beginning." The Abbott Fund oversaw efforts to ensure that labs had not just the systems, but the people they need to work efficiently. This has brought in a flow of local, qualified staff to run the labs, via scholarships for more than 100 laboratory students.

What's more, Abbott helped create the first emergency medicine facilities in Tanzania, and the first emergency medicine residency training program in all of East Africa. Established in 2010, the emergency medical department at Muhimbili National Hospital now provides critical care for up to 60,000 people annually. As a result, mortality rates have decreased 40 percent, saving more than 5,000 lives each year.

Employee Volunteers Make Our Mission Possible

During his first few years with the Abbott Fund, Andy worked in multiple countries on an HIV-focused project. In 2010, he was offered the opportunity to move to Tanzania and lead the Abbott Fund office, setting strategy and implementing all programs. Andy jumped at the chance and brought his family along, ultimately spending four years in the country.

"My family, my wife and children all became committed to the mission that we have as a family: serving and helping people in Africa."

Many other Abbott employees have had the opportunity to volunteer in Tanzania as well. During their time in-country, they've mentored local partners across a range of specialties, including IT practices, healthcare accounting, and physician and nurse training, all while living and working alongside the community. To date, 70+ Abbott experts have provided more than 65,000 hours of in-country support and training.

Andy has been back in Pennsylvania since 2014 and, now in his leadership role at the Abbott Fund, he remains as committed as ever. Reflecting on his time in Africa, he says, "In Tanzania, people come together to face challenges and to overcome them with dignity and joy. And our staff is part of that, and my family was part of that when we lived there, and I'm still part of it. It's given me a profound belief in Abbott, and I am so grateful to be able to do the kind of work that I get to do."