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John Curtin Medallists

Graham Forward (2013)

Graham Forward - 2013 John Curtin Medal recipient Graham Forward - 2013 John Curtin Medal recipient

Graham Forward's story is one in which the strands of personal interest and professional commitment have been closely intertwined to bring remarkable impacts to many people living in East Africa.

Full-time orthopaedic surgeon, devoted husband to Jacquie Gilmour and father of eight children - including three adopted from Ethiopia - Graham has found the time and the energy to establish and build a highly respected medical humanitarian organisation.

Graham completed his medical training in Perth and went on to do an MBA at the University of Bath, subsequently returning to Perth to run his own building company for a short period of time.

Following his deep desire to pursue a professional career that could make a worthwhile contribution to society, Graham then undertook postgraduate training in orthopaedics, and has worked as an orthopaedic surgeon in Western Australia since then.

It was in 2004 that Graham embarked on what has become an extraordinary humanitarian journey. In response to the emergency medical requirements resulting from the 2004 tsunami, Graham organised a medical team to travel to Somalia, in an effort to aid swift recovery from the natural disaster.

On his return to Perth, he established Australian Doctors for Africa (ADFA) to help relieve communities in the Horn of Africa from some of their most severe medical and health difficulties. Graham's vision has been to provide long-term medical assistance in ways that complement host countries' health care plans.

Since 2005, the organisation has grown into a charity engaging some 70 medical professionals who provide voluntary medical, surgical and nursing services to Ethiopia, Somalia and Madagascar.

Over almost ten years, more than 36 medical teams have conducted thousands of surgical procedures, outpatient and inpatient consultations, and ward rounds. More than $10 million worth of medical supplies and medical equipment has been dispatched in 22 sea containers.

Key ADFA contributions include introducing new surgical procedures to the local medical workforce and completing six major building projects including new operating theatres. Local medical services have also been expanded and medical knowledge has been increased - through the use of information technology - to guide local surgeons in the treatment of orthopaedic injuries.

During the ADFA journey, Graham has experienced events and developments that have been large, unpredictable and rare - most of them far outside the realm of expectation for organisations operating in more politically stable countries. Graham has shown tenacity and skill in establishing and building ADFA in challenging conditions.

ADFA continues to go from strength to strength. This is testament to Graham's leadership ability and his deep concern for the welfare of those less fortunate. It is his enduring dedication to a long-term humanitarian vision that makes him a worthy recipient of the John Curtin Medal 2013.

Work undertaken since receiving the John Curtin Medal

Since receiving the John Curtin Medal in 2013, Dr Graham Forward continues to oversee the development of Australian Doctors for Africa (ADFA) as the organisation’s CEO.

Dr Forward founded ADFA in 2005. Today it is active in four countries: Ethiopia, Somaliland, Madagascar and Comoros Islands. The organisation sends at least 15 volunteer teams of medical specialists annually to provide medical services and assess and implement skills transfer, through medical consultation, surgical and non-surgical treatment and training local doctors and students. The objective is to enable a trained, sustainable local surgical workforce in each of the target countries.

While the initial focus of ADFA was on the provision of orthopaedic services through implementing local screening clinics and training local medical staff and surgeons in early detection and treatment, it has broadened to include specialised teams with expertise in urology, gastroenterology, obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics.

Since 2013, ADFA has been supporting infrastructure upgrades through the provision of surgical and hospital equipment, building renovations, hospital wards, water supply and capacity-building initiatives to improve medical facilities in major government teaching hospitals. More than 50 containers of medical and hospital equipment have been sent to hospitals in the target countries to date.

ADFA plans to continue supporting its existing medical training programs and expansion of the scope of specialist surgical teams it provides to include gastroenterologists, cardiologists and urologists, in addition to plaster technicians, physiotherapists, emergency GPs, anaesthetists and nurses.