year 2, week 41: this week i'm gonna... provide healthcare to everyone, everywhere
In 2003, Liberia emerged from more than a decade of civil war. After years of violence, the country’s health infrastructure was devastated. Only 50 doctors remained to treat a population of more than four million people. If you got sick in the city, you stood a chance. But if you got sick in a remote community – many of which are hours or even days away from the nearest clinic – you could die anonymously of a treatable condition like malaria, a complicated childbirth, or simple infection.
In 2007, a group of Liberian civil war survivors and American health workers came together and co-founded an organization committed to seeking justice for Liberia’s rural poor. Starting with only $6,000 in seed money, they were Liberia’s first rural, public HIV program, and they treated patients in a war-torn building in the village of Zwedru.
Almost immediately, the team realized that the greatest needs were at Liberia’s last mile, where people in remote communities lacked access to healthcare due to distance and poverty.
“Our team was working in Konobo in southeastern Liberia, and the average distance to a health facility was a 14-hour walk,” says Siobhan Kelley, Communications Manager. “Only in emergency cases would patients seek access to care. It was an eye-opening moment for our team and really guided our direction as an organization.”
Their solution was to recruit, train, equip, manage, and pay community members to provide lifesaving health services to their neighbors. In so doing, they were also able to create a strong link between remote communities and the government’s public sector health system.
Since those early days, they have grown from a small team working out of a supply closet to a growing organization that serves as a dedicated partner to the Liberia Ministry of Health.
Last Mile Health partners with the Liberian government to deploy, support, and manage networks of community health workers. These workers deliver quality healthcare to remote communities and are trained in maternal and child health, family planning, treatment adherence, and surveillance of epidemics, among other things.
In the Liberian communities that Last Mile Health serves, newborn mortality has decreased and the percentage of children treated for diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia has increased. On the strength of this success, Last Mile Health is now supporting the Liberian Ministry of Health to implement the National Community Health Assistant Program, which will deploy 4,000 health workers to serve the 1.2 million Liberians living in rural and remote
To learn more about Last Mile Health, please watch the video below:
On December 26th, 2013, an 18-month-old boy from a remote community in the Guinean rainforest fell ill and died of cholera-like symptoms. Within weeks, several of his family members had succumbed to the same fate. By the time local authorities were first notified on January 24th, 2014, it was too late to stop the spread of what would soon become the worst outbreak of the Ebola Virus in recorded history. More than 11,300 people died of Ebola across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and the outbreak closed schools and brought local economies to a standstill.
Last Mile Health supported the Government of Liberia to train more than 1,300 health workers and community members to prevent and contain the spread of Ebola. In 38 clinics across Southeastern Liberia, they supported health workers to “keep safe, keep serving” in the midst of the outbreak through distribution of personal protective equipment. At the community level, Last Mile Health trained community health workers and other community “mobilizers” to educate their communities about the cause of Ebola, how to prevent its spread, and how to manage and report suspected cases.
The Ebola outbreak, which was finally brought to a halt in 2016, was a tragedy of unfathomable scope. It highlighted the need for stronger, more resilient health systems that reach even the world’s most remote communities.
The Ebola tragedy also highlighted the key role that community health workers can play in transforming health outcomes by bringing lifesaving healthcare services – including infectious disease surveillance – to their neighbors.
“Our vision," states Kelley, "is health workers for everyone, everywhere, every day.”
Notes for this week:
- October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Diabetes Awareness Month
- Our collective givetwig donation will fully equip ten community health workers with the essential medication and diagnostic tools they need to provide life-saving care to fellow members of their communities for a month.
- For more information on Last Mile Health, please check out their website.
this week i'm gonna donate to Last Mile Health.