An Innovative Approach to Combating Childhood Pneumonia

Avi Kenny (left) and Thomas Griffiths (right) conduct data analysis for the first stage of Last Mile Health’s targeted efforts to reduce childhood pneumonia.

When Avi Kenny graduated from Brown University in 2011 he did what most recent Ivy League grads do—he headed straight for rural Africa. Part of a new, adventurous and innovative generation of global health leadership, Avi heads up the monitoring and evaluation efforts for Last Mile Health (TH), a start-up non-governmental organization (NGO) health project in the remote district of Konobo, Liberia.

Direct Relief has supported TH since 2011 to strengthen their comprehensive primary care and frontline health outreach services and most recently for their targeted efforts to reduce the incidence of childhood pneumonia. This treatable illness is the leading cause of death of children under five worldwide, and is particularly prevalent in Liberia.

The staff at TH is eager to get to work. With phase 1 of the project nearly complete as of this week, Avi is inundated with health data freshly gathered from 601 households distributed across 30 randomly sampled village clusters throughout Konobo district. Before a single treatment is given, TH will complete one of the most rigorous health surveys conducted for Konobo and possibly for Liberia as a whole.

“Through the Konobo baseline survey, we hope to create a foundation for saving the lives of women and children by determining the greatest barriers to accessing healthcare, and assessing levels of various maternal and child health indicators,”Avi recounts.

TH engages in strategic public health through careful analysis of the health conditions, needs and infrastructure for the people of Konobo district. As Avi puts it, “The results of the survey will allow us to strategically adapt our model to fit local health needs and target the most vulnerable communities in the district.”

Successful programs to address conditions like childhood pneumonia do not target single factors in isolation because these conditions are not the result of any one cause. Instead, groups like TH seek out rapid and efficient responses to the complex intersections of food and water, transportation, family planning, and infectious diseases, which shape the endemic crises of public health systems throughout the developing world.

With their preliminary results in hand, how does Avi view the public health challenges facing Konobo district? “Already,” he says, “we’ve seen that the overall health picture is bleak. Access to essential health services, such as vaccinations and antenatal care, is extremely limited, and child deaths are common.”

But with improved understanding comes a greater chance that the hard work TH is putting in to help create an effective public health system will pay off, and that when it does they will have meaningful evidence to show what worked and why. “There is a great need for high-quality health interventions in the Konobo district,” says Avi, “and we are confident that the baseline survey will set the stage for positive change.”

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