“We as people are not defined by the crises that strike our lives; we are defined by how we respond to them.”
The message above is one thought that Raj Panjabi, CEO of Last Mile Health, finds universal. Last Mile Health has sought to bridge the gap between health facilities and remote communities by bringing critical services to the doorsteps of people living in what they call last mile villages, or places that are more than five kilometers from the nearest clinic. When someone in one of these villages gets sick, they have to walk for many hours over long and treacherous distances to get the proper care that they need. To effectively bring health services to those in last mile villages, Last Mile Health recruits, trains, equips, manages and pays professional community health workers to provide primary health care in the last mile.
Last Mile Health recently released its 2014-2015 annual report in which it outlines its work and the progress that it has made over the past year. Since inception in 2007, Last Mile Health has made serious advances and progress in providing basic health services to those in last mile communities.
Last Mile Health currently works in three different locations in Liberia, West Africa: Konobo District, Gboe-Ploe and parts of Rivercess County. This coming January, it will be expanding its work into the remainder of Rivercess County. Last Mile Health has treated 13,838 childhood cases of fever, diarrhea and pneumonia and has provided over 31,000 patient visits. Last Mile Health’s help was critical during the Ebola crisis because many health facilities had to shut their doors due to lack of training and supplies. During the Ebola outbreak, Last Mile Health screened 10,434 people for Ebola and also trained 1,382 health workers and community members in Ebola-specific services.
The progress that Last Mile Health has made is astonishing. And this progress is only made possible due to Last Mile Health’s community health workers. Community health workers are trained to meet community-specific health needs and ultimately provide access to health care that those who live in the last mile need to end preventable deaths.
Last Mile Health’s model has proven to be so successful that the government of Liberia recently requested Last Mile Health’s help and support to achieve its vision of providing each remote village in the country with a community health worker. Liberia has set a goal to achieve this over the next five years. By teaming up with Last Mile Health, the Liberian government is within reach of obtaining its goal.
Last Mile Health has a well-defined vision. As Josh Albert, country director of Last Mile Health, said, “Our vision is permanent, sustainable systems which will exist to provide health care to everybody, including those living in remote, distant, neglected communities around the world — starting with Liberia.” Thus far, Last Mile Health has had success, and its model has proven to be successful. Liberia is just the start.
Last Mile Health is the type of organization that needs to be replicated. It combines intimate local cultural and political knowledge with advanced training — in this case, medical training. This local knowledge, and commitment, is something that foreign aid projects too often fail to incorporate. When Raj Panjabi left Liberia as a young person, as the country faced a political crisis, he did not turn his back on the place of his birth. He got a medical education and returned. He still lives part of the year in the U.S. But his heart is in Liberia. This is exactly the type of organization and person that more of us need to support.
John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development.
Jake Busby, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.
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