Why Community Health?

Community health workers can save millions of lives far faster and at a lower cost than facility-based care. Community health is fundamental to delivering universal health coverage.

Across sub-Saharan Africa and other low- and middle-income countries, public health facilities struggle to be effective given the limitations of overstretched public funding, insufficient medical staff, and the challenges of stocking a reliable supply of quality medicines. Often, these facilities are difficult to access due to poor infrastructure, rainy seasons, and onerous queues. The high cost of essential medicines at private hospitals and pharmacies is often a barrier for families, and counterfeit medicines are rampant.

Evidence shows that more than 8 million people die each year in low- and middle-income countries from otherwise treatable conditions. In addition to this preventable human tragedy, this also results in staggering economic losses ($6 trillion in 2015).

More than 3 million children die annually from treatable conditions like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria because of geographical inaccessibility, poor supply chains, insufficient follow-ups and referrals, and low-quality drugs. One in three families loses a child before his or her fifth birthday and more than half the world’s population does not have access to basic health care.

Living Goods' Integrated Approach to Community Health

Learn how we’re helping local women and men become digitally-empowered community health workers.

The Living Goods Approach

Community health workers can save millions of lives far faster and at a lower cost than facility-based care. Community health is fundamental to delivering universal health coverage.

Community health provides a high-impact, low-cost solution to these challenges. Community health workers (CHWs) are trusted frontline health personnel with basic health training and knowledge who provide primary care to their neighbors. They are critical elements of the health system in low- and middle-income countries, where the doctor-to-patient ratio falls far below the WHO’s recommendation of 1 for every 1,000 people. Effective community health systems also help provide care for the critically and chronically ill and alleviate pressure on resource-constricted health facilities. Properly stocked and supported CHWs link millions of people to essential health services.

CHWs do not replace licensed doctors and nurses. Rather, they help relieve the burden on hospitals and facilities in resource-strapped areas by reaching more people before their health conditions turn life-threatening. When integrated into the larger primary health system, they can help close the health care gap far faster and cheaper than health facilities on their own. It is estimated that effectively utilized community health workers can prevent more than 3 million child deaths annually while also providing a 1:10 return on investment.

Why Community Health Workers?


The Need for New Community Health Paradigms

Community health workers were recognized as an integral component of the primary health care system when the movement for universal health coverage began 40 years ago with the Declaration of Alma Ata. But even where community health workers do exist, they often receive minimal training and supervision and don’t have access to the resources they need to treat sick patients. Typically, CHWs are trained once and have limited refresher trainings, working on an antiquated paper basis for recording their assessments and recommendations. Another challenge is that CHWs aren’t effectively integrated into most formal health systems.

It’s also hard to motivate health workers to provide support to their neighbors on a purely voluntary basis, without any form of compensation. Their work is time-consuming—often 2-4 hours a day—and can be arduous across rural landscapes. While many countries do have paid supervisors for community health, they also face challenges, including understaffing and limited training and resources to effectively support their CHWs.

Our experience has demonstrated that it is possible to make community health really work—for CHWs, the communities they serve, and even for entire health systems. When CHWs are compensated, effectively trained and supervised, stocked with reliable medications, and supported by game-changing mobile technology, they can truly save lives and fill an otherwise critical gap in medical care. Our approach also ensures that health supervisors have the requisite training and digital tools to manage far-flung workforces in real-time. Together, using these approaches, we’ve made major inroads in reducing childhood and maternal illness and mortality to foster a generation of productive, healthy lives.

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“Coming to work is a joy. There are so many different backgrounds and experiences to call upon. We make decisions quickly, experiment, make mistakes, learn from them, and always move forward.”

– Liz Jarman, CEO
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