a venti cappuccino…

My primary health care class is really an astounding collaboration between the professors, several universities as well as experts in the field.  Today we were treated at a video created by Dr. Raj Panjabi, the founder of the Last Mile Health initiative, a program that works with rural populations in Liberia. There are only 51 doctors to serve a country the size of Ohio… that is frightening, to say the least ! The complete lack of health care in rural areas is made worse by the fact that it is not uncommon for people to walk 2 days to get any type of medical attention whatsoever… how can a sick person make the journey ? How can a mother carry a sick infant and 2 small children simultaneously for that long a trip ? The answer, obviously, is that they cannot. The country does not have a vaccination program, which results in a quarter of the children dying before their 5th birthday. Statistics like this can’t be ignored.

There are 400 million people on the continent, and HALF of that number live in so called “last mile” villages where there is no access to medical reatment of any kind. Last Mile Health was formed to meet the basic needs of the remote villagers in Liberia. Their objective was simple, to train local villagers to provide very basic care. No, a late teen with only a 5th grade education cannot become a surgeon, but they can learn basic medical skills that would have the highest impact locally, thereby saving lives ! While I am intimately acquainted with “barefoot doctors”, the idea of empowering so many communities, and with training with no age limits astounded my middle-class american mindset. My daughter will have to complete at least 7 years of college before she is allowed to touch a live patient, yet these trainees are literally saving lives within months of beginning their work.

The project begins with training modules covering the top 10 diseases prevalent to the area, and equips them with modern medical supplies, such as simple malaria test strips, and drugs to combat pneumonia. They are also given a nurse to go around with weekly, checking on their patients and progress. One young girl who has a mere 7th grade education has mastered 50 medical skills so far, and attends emergency births as well as treating newborns for all manner of infection. That is remarkable, to say the least. Along with her peers, these new “local professionals” can perform 80% of basic health care needs  fighting the top diseases in each area.

This program has already doubled the survival rate for women infected with HIV, doubled access to malaria and pneumonia treatment and is all happening in areas that have never had access to health care before. This program works, is working, right now, and is a real solution to a problem that only the local personnel can provide. This empowers people in these communities to finally be able to take control of their basic health, and to strive for an appointment as a medical “professional”. This term is stressed, because to take yourself seriously is the first step in being responsible for someone else. =) Unlike doctors from various groups, these locals stay in the area for their whole lives, making permanent impact as well as being the top dollar value for all involved.

The government of Liberia stepped up and not only asked for this to happen, but gives as much support as possible to the task ahead. That the program has already helped 34,000 people is a testament of what can be done when resources, proper planning and government support come together for the good of a country. The next goal is to serve 1.5 million rural residents, and the cost of this giant endeavor ? A mere $6.50 per person, per annum. The cost of a venti vanilla cappuccino. Just one, mind you. One coffee, and someone gets primary health care for a solid 12 months. I love that the project is not actively looking for funding, but instead is going for partnerships and mentorships, to sustain them for the long haul. If 17 readers and I all donated the $6.50, then a newborn would have primary care until he reaches the age of majority… it is simply amazing what one motivated, caring, intelligent man can accomplish…

Illness is universal, access to care is not. It is as simple and heartbreaking as that. This has really put into perspective the ideas I have for supporting underserved populations, and I am beginning to realize that there is no such thing as “too small” an idea, resource or desire to help. Please, take a moment today to examine your own lives, the bounty that we have and are surrounded by, thru some accident of birth. I implore you to reach out and help, anyone, anywhere, in any way you see fit. But please do it, because you never know what can grow from the seeds of your compassion… =)


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. NotAPunkRocker
    Jun 05, 2014 @ 16:32:01

    Being healthy shouldn’t be a privilege, being sick shouldn’t be a punishment. But I have been on enough soapboxes today 🙂

    (if you see me subscribe to your blog again, it is because I am not getting even email notices now! 😦 )


  2. tishmoon
    Jun 05, 2014 @ 16:39:53

    I KNOW !!!!! My alerts are so jacked up… I just realized today that I haven’t seen any posts by Rob in almost a month ! =(

    No worries, I am here off and on, and will poke you if I don’t hear from you every so often. =)


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