By Sharon Atieno

In a move to increase access to health services in Africa, healthcare companies and philanthropies will fund thousands of community health workers as part of larger initiative led by Last Mile Health and Living Goods.

By joining forces with Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer, GSK and the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, precious resources and acumen can be maximized in implementing the Health Worker Training initiative- a three year investment totaling to US$18 million.

“We are inspired that healthcare companies are taking collective action to strengthen community health systems in the public sector across sub-Saharan Africa to advance universal health coverage,” said Liz Jarman, CEO of Living Goods, and Dr. Raj Panjabi, CEO of Last Mile Health.

“This partnership is much more than a financial commitment; it joins a growing movement of philanthropists, companies, and governments that have committed to scale digitally-empowered community health workers and build stronger primary healthcare systems across Africa to ultimately save more lives.”

Dave Ricks, chairman and CEO of Lilly and president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations said that focused investment in community health workers can accelerate progress to make universal coverage a reality.

“Public-private collaboration is critical to help governments lower barriers to quality care and innovative medicines that save and improve people’s lives,” he said.

Community health workers can yield a 10:1 return on investment, due to a healthier population, increased employment, and lower odds of health crises.

“Community health workers are the critical frontline to sustainably impact the health of communities in resource poor settings,” said Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis.

Sharing the same sentiments, Dr. Andrin Oswald, Co-chair of the CEO Roundtable Executive Council and Director of Life Sciences Partnerships at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation applauded the companies involved in the initiative.

“The Gates Foundation is committed to working with partners across sectors to achieve universal health coverage, which is necessary to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and reducing the burden of diseases that disproportionately affect pregnant women and young children. We thank the companies involved in this initiative for their efforts to increase data-driven solutions to train and deploy effective community health workers,” he said.

The initiative is set to reach nearly 1.7 million people in around six African countries. However, leveraging the unique expertise of each organization will drive tech innovation and deepen impact.

In addition to financial contributions, industry partners will contribute disease-specific expertise and experience in the discovery and development of new tools, which will supplement the community health worker models pioneered by Last Mile Health and Living Goods, in partnership with government.

“This partnership will play a critical role in helping to scale and empower the world’s most promising health resource—community health workers—so that they can thrive and effectively save lives,” said Dr. Jane Aceng, Uganda’s Minister of Health. “Ensuring community health workers have the right training, digital technology, medical equipment and supervision is critical for ensuring they can help transform health outcomes, no matter where people live.”

The three-year investment will cover three areas which includes supporting the training and deployment of 2,500 digitally-enabled community health workers, reaching nearly 1.7 million people by 2022. The training and deployment will take part in Liberia, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and other two additional countries.

The second area will involve supporting Last Mile Health’s Community Health Academy, which is a globally used open source digital learing platform for community health workers and health systems leaders.  The training curricula will be expanded to also include non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

The other area will entail contributing expertise and personnel to Living Goods’ new Kenya Performance Lab to develop mobile-based tech innovations that will improve community health workers productivity, strengthen supply chains and better identify obstacles to coverage.

The Lab will leverage the knowledge and assets of partners in areas including data science, behavior change, performance management, analytics and technical health expertise. Innovations would be introduced to Kenya then scaled to other countries within the broader initiative.

Each of the six investors will contribute USD $1.5 million total over the next three years. This funding will be matched by the Audacious Project through an existing USD $50 million matching commitment to scale community health workers in Africa, resulting in an USD $18 million total investment.