An insight into Two Wheels For Life's incredible work

CEO Andrea Coleman outlines how MotoGP™'s Official Charity are continuing with their life-saving work across Africa at this difficult time

Over 30 years ago, together with her husband Barry and Grand Prix star Randy Mamola, Andrea Coleman started a charity aimed at improving healthcare in rural communities in Africa by using motorcycles as transport. Health workers were mobilized with vehicles and local men and women trained as mechanics to sustain a safe and efficient operations. Coleman, who used to be a racer herself, was devastated to see the state of the roads and the difficulty health workers faced in reaching remote villages. She started the Riders for Health non-profit organization to address this. These days, Coleman heads the non-profit organization Two Wheels for Life, which supports riders while raising the funds needed to carry on the Riders for Health mission in Africa, and she recently sat down for an interview with journalist Tammy Gorali for to discuss their ongoing work, as well as the impact of Covid-19.

With no MotoGP™ action in 2020 so far, the charity connected to and relying on the championship and its spectators is suffering greatly. “Normally at this time of the MotoGP season we would have raised around £40,000 by making sure fans have exclusive experiences provided by Two Wheels for Life thanks to Dorna’s generosity, but currently this year we have raised £2000,” Coleman said, speaking from her home in the UK.

She pointed out that COVID-19 might have put the championship on hold, but other health problems continue unabated. “The programs need the money they normally need, as well as additional money,” she explained. “Viruses are not new to the African community, so many countries are suffering from a very severe burden of HIV and multidrug-resistant TB. They still have outbreaks of bubonic plague and leprosy, things that the developed world really haven't had to experience for a long time.”

These diseases are still very much present in Liberia, The Gambia, Lesotho, Nigeria and Malawi, where the non-profit organisation is most action with over 1400 vehicles and 700 staff members working in the five countries' various programs as administrators, drivers, riders, and on the technical side.

As much as dealing with COVID-19 in the western world was, and still is, a challenge, Coleman is concerned about the implication it might have on the Africa, especially in the poorer countries where Two Wheels for Life is active. “The coronavirus is a very different thing to them, it's a new virus, nobody has the information that they need, nobody has the protective clothing that they need. Hand washing is a challenge where there is no clean water available and social distancing is very hard where rural communities depend on each other. Reaching them with information is really a need, as well as helping workers mobilise with motorcycles to get there and so this is a very difficult time for both health workers and the community. They have a regular burden of disease and now they have the new challenge that they have no information about. It's a very challenging time for the teams on the ground and the rural communities and their families.”

According to collected data, the number of coronavirus cases in these countries are relatively low when compared with the West, East, and the Middle East, with 11 cases in Gambia, 141 in Liberia, 36 in Malawi, 1728 in Nigeria and no reported cases in Lesotho. Coleman is convinced the low numbers are due to lack of testing in the area: “There are no reported cases in Lesotho at the moment but they are heading for the winter and it is a very mountainous country, it's very cold there in the winter, lots of snow and ice and those communities will be in their homes and not going out too much. Those are the conditions people are worried about when the spreading is more severe. The number of cases is around 5000 in South Africa, and despite the fact that there are no reported cases in Lesotho, it is unlikely that there are none there.

“Lesotho is surrounded by South Africa and though official borders are closed people can easily cross at informal border points. Many citizens of Lesotho are employed in SA and will be going home, and what we are trying to do is to prepare for what we believe will be a severe outbreak within the coming months. We hope not, but no one knows what it is going to be like.

“Nevertheless, the preparation for that is really taking the focus off other issues people are living with. Lesotho, as a nation, has one of the highest burdens of multidrug-resistant TB and HIV on the continent so it does take away the focus from them. So, the struggle for them is to deal with that and this new challenge, and it's creating a lot of anxiety from the Ministry of Health right down to the individual person.

"In Gambia and Nigeria, the focus is to use the work that we do to get tests from test sites to laboratories but, as we know, testing is very expensive and the population of Nigeria is 200 million people so there are a lot of people to address. I am more worried about the African continent than anywhere else. TB is a disease which is very prevalent in areas of poverty and it’s a disease that attacks the respiratory system. There is a very high incidence of it in Africa and, of course, once people also get coronavirus, which also affects the respiratory system, it can be lethal. We have to think about a continent where healthcare is fragile, health systems are fragile and that we have a responsibility for it," Coleman explained.

Communicating is one of the big concerns in the prevention process: “It's very difficult to get the information out, as it's not often that there are radios or any type of media in these distant communities. The only way is to have environmental and public health professionals and health workers ride out on motorcycles to these rural communities with posters and with leaflets with the information they can deliver. The communities are very distant and difficult to reach, so our job is that the health workers have the mobility to get out as far as they can to alert and guide these communities, and it has to be done without creating panic.

"Many villages don't have running water, they have to carry it a long way, so using it to wash hands all the time is really not feasible. It's hard to get soap, it's impossible to get hand sanitizer and things like masks and rubber gloves are in short supply, it really is a big concern and our focus has to be helping our health workers get out there to support the public in any way they can.”

It's not the first time Coleman and the non-profit organisation suffered from a shortage of funds. The recession in 2008 had a big impact on a lot of organisations worldwide. “This feels much worse, because we are completely dependent on the MotoGP family and the fans of the sport, and at the time of the serious recession in 2008, although fundraising was diminished, racing continued so funding didn't go away altogether, as our activities still took place. This is much worse because we are accustomed to the fact that economies go up and down, and in some regards the economy is predictable. With this, nobody knows where the end is or what the world would look like once it begins to settle down. We don't know what the future and the future of our fundraising would be. It's almost non-existent now, although Dorna are giving us a huge amount of support. But it's hard to tell how secure the organisation can be.”

Coleman is aware that the people who usually donate are not just unable to buy tickets to the paddock, rides on the Energica MotoE™ bike at the moment or donate to help Africa. They are in trouble themselves. “I look at that in two different ways. I think that because people have now experienced the threat of the virus and are getting to experience a global health threat, I think that it has alerted people of how it might feel for the communities we are trying to assist. I think there's a lot of real concern for the people in Africa, because all of a sudden we are all experiencing that ourselves, and we all know that Africa is so vulnerable and that the health system is so fragile.”

"So, on the one hand, it draws more concern and empathy from the rest of the world, but on the other side, the focus on fundraising is going to produce a vaccine and to, understandably, support the health system in developed countries. Long term, I think it will help people to have more empathy for what it's like to live with a disease that is so rampant.”

Even though until now Two Wheels for Life has only raised about 5% of its projected amount for May, the organization is still managing to keep the work at a normal capacity, although with great concern. “We are definitely not cutting anything, but it is definitely a struggle to do the regular work of transporting women in labour to hospital, making sure children are still being immunised, patients on treatment are still confined with their treatment, and then, in addition, to get people informed about COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves and their families. It's not about cutting anything, just stretching the maximum to keep the normal service running and to address these issues. In the programs we collaborate with other charities, as our mobility is there to support health delivery. So we partner with all the organisations whose cause is to deliver healthcare to enable them to do their job.”

Like everyone else today, the organization and its team have to find new ways to raise the funds needed, and they are still learning through the current situation. “There are social media activities, like Instagram takeovers, private Zoom drink-alongs, and raising awareness during the eSport MotoGP virtual races.

“The platforms MotoGP are airing the races on are free, so they are asking fans to donate to Two Wheels for Life rather than paying to watch the race. The broadcast will direct the viewers to our website in the hope that people will donate, even if small amounts. It's a difficult question to know what we can expect, as we have not done this kind of work before, I would say we will be pleased with whatever we raise. We would hope for £10,000 or £20,000, but everything is going to help. Race fans are struggling too and we want them to have a little fun too.

"What we have always done with MotoGP is enable people to have access to things the normally fans don't. Last weekend one of the things that we offered was a virtual sundown with Suzi Perry together with riders like Danilo Petrucci, Maverick Viñales and Franco Morbidelli. We are looking for all sorts of new ways, but everybody's learning how to live their lives in a virtual way, and we are all doing so socially, but we also must learn how to earn money and to communicate the challenges the programs in Africa have. We are hoping people can once again enjoy, have fun while supporting Two Wheels for Life, even if that's in a new way.”

One of Two Wheels for Life's main events is the Day of Champions, held the day before the British MotoGP™ round takes place at Silverstone. The Day of Champions sees live interviews and auctions, raising amounts of over £100,000 each year. With the Silverstone race facing the possibility of no public being allowed, the event may have to be postponed until 2021, which means a huge loss of income. “We have been talking in the last few days on how to achieve a virtual Day of Champions, and I must say that Dorna and the MotoGP paddock have been incredibly supportive. At the time many of the teams are scattered around the world, it's hard for them to get the memorabilia and activities that we normally auction. We are working very hard with them to see what we can put on; it's got to be fun and worth all the work of the teams and riders who take part in it.”

"All of this is vital for people who, before the work that we do, often did not even know they had a health worker, let alone see them on a regular basis. So that’s the work we support. This is a very interconnected world. If it wasn’t, then the coronavirus would not have been a worldwide problem. But we are connected and if Africa isn't taken care of and we don't think about it, it could be completely devastating, not only for Africa, but for all of us. We are all responsible for one another.”

“We know it's hard for everybody,” Coleman emphasises. “We don't expect people to commit to a huge amount of money and whatever it is, it will help people, but we do know life's a struggle for everyone at the moment, and we appreciate anything they can do. We still need to care for the environment and we still need to take care of others, even when we are having a difficult time at home. One health worker on a well-maintained motorcycle can go predictably and reliably, day in and day out, to these rural communities to make sure they can provide pre and post-labour care, making sure they are looking after pregnant women and new-born babies, making sure children are immunised, making sure people are taking their meds for serious illnesses. Protecting people, as well as health education about nutrition and health care.

"All of this is vital for people who, before the work that we do, often did not even know they had a health worker, let alone see them on a regular basis. So that’s the work we support. This is a very interconnected world. If it wasn’t, then the coronavirus would not have been a worldwide problem. But we are connected and if Africa isn't taken care of and we don't think about it, it could be completely devastating, not only for Africa, but for all of us. We are all responsible for one another.”