Partner Q&A: Expanding Health Care Access in Rural Liberia
Meet Alice Johnson, who works as a clinical mentor for Direct Relief’s partner organization, Last Mile Health – a nonprofit working to deliver quality health care to people in need in rural Liberia.
Alice presented on a mental health panel at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting held last week in New York City. When she’s not traveling, she recruits, trains, mentors, and supervises community health workers to help fulfill the mission of getting critically-needed healthcare to people living in Liberia’s most remote communities.
She recently shared her perspective with Direct Relief’s team. Read her thoughts below to learn more about how she and Last Mile Health find innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing global health problems.
DR: How has Liberia’s past history of conflict affected health access today?
AJ: Liberia has suffered two brutal civil wars and thus devastating effects on (a) human population, reducing the number of medical doctors from 400 to 51… (b) Economy, leaving 78 percent of the population unemployed which increased overall poverty in the country, and (c) infrastructure of Liberia, as there are no functioning public utilities post-conflict which left Liberians without access to water and basic sanitation facilities and health care for many years. Lack of health workers and health facilities, long distances, and poor infrastructure remain obstacles to accessing health care.
DR: What are some of the challenges to accessing health care services in the communities Last Mile Health works in?
AJ: Poor condition of roads; lack of access to phone communication; long distance between the community and the clinic; and a poor supply chain.
DR: What are some examples of innovative ways Last Mile Health is overcoming these challenges?
AJ: Some innovative ways in which Last Mile Health is overcoming these challenges include mobilizing and providing some assistance to community members to repair their broken bridges and also cutting down overgrown jungle that impairs movements. In addition, we are now partnering with Medic Mobile and Cellcom to solve the communication problems that plague last mile villages. Finally, our model of care represents an innovative solutions. We train professionalized community health workers to provide care. We procure medication to be used at the health center, and we also work to solve the problem of poor supply chain and the treatment gap.
DR: Is there a patient’s story that stands out to you?
AJ: A child in one of the communities in which we work was becoming severely malnourished, and the entire community including his mother failed to intervene. The community members had the mindset that it is his normal body size, though in reality he was severely malnourished. The Frontline Health Worker (FHW) diagnosed it during his regular home visit, and I confirmed the diagnosis during supervision. After diagnosis, we referred the child to the health center for nutritional rehabilitation and educated the mother on malnutrition. Today, the child has fully recovered from the illness.
DR: How does Direct Relief’s support help Last Mile Health fulfill its mission?
AJ: Supporting us with donations of life-saving drugs and medical equipment allows us to effectively diagnose and treat patients in last mile communities.
DR: What is the most rewarding part about your job?
AJ: The most rewarding part of my work is building a strong and professional community-based service that provides health care to community members, and ensures that they don’t have to walk long distances to access care. In addition, saving the lives of innocent children that have been dying from preventable and curable diseases is extremely rewarding.
Direct Relief is honored to work with Alice and her colleagues in tackling barriers to health care. To find out more about Direct Relief’s partnership with Last Mile Health, please view these related posts > Increasing Access to Pneumonia Treatment for Children in Liberia; Health Survey Sets Baseline for Positive Change in Rural Liberia