Liberia’s Health Angel Earns Recognition at CGI

Liberia’s Health Angel Earns Recognition at CGI

Aakruti Jagmohan, media lab intern, Emerson College 2014

DSCN1599-1

In rural Liberia, 5.7 million newborns die due to childbirth complications; 1.4 million children die due to pneumonia; 1.1 million die due to diarrhea. 1.8 million people die due to HIV/AIDS, 1.3 million women die due to tuberculosis, and the list keeps going on.

Not only do Liberians face a high burden of disease, but those living in rural areas have very little access to care due to long distances to the clinic. Due to distance and lack of transportation, many patients don’t make it to the clinic until it’s too late to treat what could have been a minor health issue.

Last Mile Health represents a new wave of change in a country that was once written off as hopeless, following a two decade-long civil war that decimated the health system. Last Mile Health, known as Tiyatien Health in Liberia, serves around 15,000 people in Grand Gedeh county. By 2017, they aim to serve over 150,000 people in 10 health districts across the country. Over the past 7-years, they’ve partnered with the Liberian Government to launch programs like the first rural HIV/AIDS treatment program, which has helped curb the HIV epidemic that in the country.

Last Mile Health attended Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), the Clinton Foundation’s annual meeting, in New York from September 23rd to September 26th, 2013.

Being their third trip to CGI, this one proved to be much more satisfying. Why, you wonder? Last Mile Health’s relationship with the Government of Liberia became much stronger when the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, hosted a reception to honor the organization. Her Excellency spoke highly of the work of Last Mile Health, and even called one of their employees, Alice Johnson, her role model. That would have to be one of the best compliments you could receive for the work you do, agreed?

Raj, Alice and President of Liberia, Sirleaf Gwenigale at CGI 2013.
Raj, Alice and President of Liberia, Sirleaf Gwenigale at CGI 2013.

And, on the same note, President of Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), Bill Clinton commented on Last Mile Health’s groundbreaking work in rural Liberia at the 2012 meeting, saying, “This work on systems building…in the end will have the biggest impact on whether people live or die in large numbers.”

The system that Clinton speaks of is the model of Frontline Health Workers (FHW) that Last Mile Health implemented in 2007.

According to an article on www.forbes.com, “Raj Panjabi found the right mentor at Harvard, Paul Farmer, whose Partners in Health has famously tackled the state of Third World medical care. “The numbers are pretty daunting,” says Farmer. “One billion people will go to their graves, often prematurely,” without meeting a healthcare worker.” (Make sure your quotation marks are correct) Last Mile Health’s model changes that. Last Mile Health’s frontline health workers screen for tuberculosis, hydrate those with diarrhea and provide nutritional supplements to newborns. Those with AIDS get anti-retroviral drugs, those with malaria get anti-malarials, those with pneumonia get antibiotics. Basic stuff for Americans – revolutionary stuff in the rainforest.”

Co-founder and CEO Raj Panjabi and his team are obviously putting in sincere efforts to help limit the effects of a lot of these deadly diseases. The implementation of this FHW model looks like a ray of much needed sunshine for Liberia. If this small step works for Liberia, then it could result in being a giant step for healthcare worldwide.

Siobhan Kelley, Partnerships and Communications Coordinator at Last Mile Health, along with development intern Vidiya Sathananthan, spoke highly of Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) as a meeting place for NGOs and funders to share best practices and new innovation in the field. Siobhan and Vidiya say it is a great place to communicate stories of success for their organization and other great achievements of many global organizations on a yearly basis.

So what’s next for Last Mile Health? Dr. Raj Panjabi, co-founder and CEO, along with his team are aiming to scale up their services over the next three years. They will continue to recruit, train and manage Frontline Health Workers (FHW) to diagnose and treat 85% of the burden of disease in the villages, which treats health problems typically handled by a primary care doctor. The FHW system will serve as an integrated model for clinically effective and cost effective community health delivery throughout all districts in Liberia where people, on average, live more than 5km from a health facility. These are just a few of the many goals that Last Mile Health hopes to accomplish latest by June 2017.

400 million people across the African continent go their entire lives without seeing a health worker. With solid support from the government of Liberia and belief from partners at the Clinton Global Initiative, Last Mile Health is determined to provide high-quality, comprehensive health services to the most remote corners of Liberia.

Kah Kadi; Stevie Davis