TAMPA — More than five years have passed since a Nigerian doctor founded African Ambassadors in Tampa.
The organization that began serving the community in 2003 with only two doctors, a nurse and slim funding has since helped nearly 2,000 patients who can't afford adequate health care, organizers say.
For founder Dr. Chuma Osuji, it has had some ups and downs, but through it all, the organization has survived.
"We've been able to make a lot of improvements in this community," Osuji said.
African Ambassadors is a nonprofit organization that gives secondary medical support to Tampa residents. Four doctors and six nurses volunteer by visiting walk-in clinics, including the DoCare Clinic on Cypress Avenue and the Kenaday Medical Clinic on Waters Avenue. The group has an office at 602 Arbor Lake Lane on Harbour Island.
African Ambassadors provides free health care to those who have insufficient health insurance or none. Patients pay what they can afford, which often is nothing.
Osuji (pronounced oh-SOO-jee) said the organization has more than 425 patients. It began with only about 20.
Public donations and membership fees to the organization pay for equipment, health screenings and tests, special community activities and other costs. But the funding can be stretched only so far.
"Sometimes you can accomplish a mission by doing what you have to do and making the sacrifices you need to make," Osuji said. "But we still have a long way to go."
There are an estimated 47-million Americans without health insurance, according to 2006 Census Bureau figures.
Osuji, who is from Nigeria, wants residents to know that despite the group's name, doctors assist all patients in need.
"We never look at a man or woman and say, 'No, if you have a job, you should be able to take care of yourself,' " he said.
On Saturday, the organization will host its Fifth Year Sankofa Festival, featuring international food, wine and dancers. The gala is the group's biggest of the year and will raise money to provide free medical services.
African Ambassadors offers preventive screenings for heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol checks. Osuji said none of it would be possible without the donations. "We expect big things with this event," he said.
The doctor has big ideas for the next five years.
He said he would like African Ambassadors to have its own clinic, specialized doctors who visit regularly, and the ability to give money to less-privileged doctors in other countries.
"If you're going to do something," he said, "do it."
Eric Smithers can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3339.