The backbone of a healthy nation is having healthy citizens. With health and a higher life expectancy comes prosperity and happiness, and with that comes fewer conflicts, more stability, and better economic growth.
Unfortunately, access to adequate healthcare remains a huge problem for rural-based populations across the developing world. Illnesses which would otherwise be easily treatable are left to take their toll, leaving communities poorer, unhappier, and unable to fulfil their potential. An unhealthy population also damages the agricultural industry, which exacerbates food instability for the entire country.
One extremely promising initiative, called Living Goods, has already found success in reaching out to small, underserved communities and enabling them to finally receive adequate health care. By combining data-driven mobile technology and empowering residents themselves to become self-sustaining community health workers, they’ve managed to change the lives of countless children and families across Africa.
Remote villages in Africa face numerous problems in trying to access basic healthcare. Often, the small size of the population isn’t able to support a permanent health clinic, so to reach both general doctors and specialists the residents would have to travel to bigger cities, often hours of travel each way.
Education and governmental support for healthcare is a problem too. Many clinics, especially in rural areas, are chronically understaffed. Locals simply don’t have the educational opportunities to get themselves to medical school, training standards are highly variable, and when faced with low wages and government funding for healthcare many established doctors prefer to remain in bigger cities where they are more suitably compensated.
Money that comes in via NGOs does help alleviate this problem, and are a valuable measure to improve basic living conditions for everyone. But these programs and clinics, reliant on donations and volunteers, are ultimately not sustainable in the long-term.
All of these factors combine to make access to essential healthcare an incredibly difficult challenge, and as a result unnecessarily endangers countless lives, especially newborns. Infants and children in developing countries are susceptible to many illnesses which would be easily treatable in nations where there’s easy access to professional medical care. In fact, in Sub-Saharan Africa some 1 in 13 children do not survive to see their fifth birthday, a mortality rate 20 times higher than developed nations like Australia and New Zealand (1).
The Living Goods program addresses not just one, but all of these obstacles with a multi-layered approach to delivering essential healthcare. There are three key segments of this approach:
- Turning community members into healthcare providers. With training and a smartphone, virtually any member of the town or village can become a health care worker.
- Enabling these healthcare providers to become micro entrepreneurs. Each healthcare worker is provided with a set of basic medical items which they can sell door-to-door as part of their visit. These items are affordable for the community but also provide a small profit for the healthcare worker.
- Gathering and utilising comprehensive data to enhance the program. The local healthcare providers report on their work through their smartphone. Regional and national coordinators in the Living Goods team monitor progress and gather data on a large scale in order to identify trends and ongoing problems, and adjust the program accordingly to deliver better outcomes for all.
As well as this, if medical problems arise that the community health workers are unequipped to deal with, they can link up remotely with medical professionals to get help and work out the best course of action for the patient.
What Makes Living Goods’ Work So Exciting?
What makes the Living Goods’ community health program so exciting is that it addresses nearly all of the challenges of rural healthcare in one simple package.
Empowering members who live in the community to become health care providers makes access to basic healthcare much simpler for the community, and sidesteps the need to build and maintain a dedicated facility directly in the village. It also provides an excellent education opportunity for those who otherwise might not receive it. At the same time, having the patient and the health worker from the same community dramatically increases the level of trust, and the likelihood that any treatments or health recommendations will be acted upon.
The micro entrepreneurship aspect makes the program almost self-sustaining (it costs a mere $2 per person per year), and provides both an incentive and a reward to community members for participating in the program, as well as economically strengthening both women and the community as a whole.
Finally, the use of technology to both deliver and monitor the effects of standardised, evidence-based healthcare makes the program much more versatile. With the data the program generates, Living Goods are able to adapt to – and overcome – any current and future challenges.
The results of the Living Goods program speak for themselves. A large-scale, randomised control trial shows that since the start of the program in 2014, mortality in under-5 Ugandan children was reduced by 27%, and infant death by 33%, while families with a newborn child in their care were 71% more likely to receive a healthcare visit within the first week after the birth (2).
In that time, the program’s success has allowed them to expand from Uganda to also reach families in Burkina Faso and Kenya, as well as develop partnerships with programs in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Sierra Leone. As a sustainable, intelligent, and multi-faceted approach to delivering healthcare to communities in need, we’re certain that Living Goods will be improving the lives of countless people long into the future.