In the remote rural district of Konobo, Liberia teams of frontline health workers from Last Mile Health (TH) are often up to their knees in mud. Narrow dirt paths winding through thick jungle, most of which appear on no official maps, are often the only conduits linking villages with life-saving health services.
When the rains come, often a weekly occurrence in Konobo, the road conditions can shift quickly from difficult to treacherous to impassable. The mud itself becomes a serious public-health challenge, particularly if the TH teams don’t even really know where they are relative to the nearest settlements where help might be sought.
When Direct Relief teamed up with TH early last year to support their efforts to identify and treat cases of childhood pneumonia, one of the biggest killers of children in the developing world, we did not simply want to supply them with medicines and supplies, we wanted to help them with all the elements needed to overcome the challenges of working in places like Konobo. One of our key contributions to that end has been a donation of 10 handheld GPS receivers, which pull spatial data from satellites to establish precise coordinate locations.
These simple devices have enabled TH to produce the first accurate digital maps of the area in which they have been helping to rebuild Liberia’s public health system. TH’s maps have in turn been shared with Ministry of Health officials who are doing the same rebuilding work from the public sector. Likewise, precisely geo-coded household health survey results are helping both TH and the Ministry to raise provocative new questions about health access and health resource allocation. The Konobo maps have in that sense already become a sort of public-private partnership, helping to guide accurate, efficient and forward-thinking healthcare decisions for rural Liberians.
GPS also comes in handy when one’s truck is stuck in the mud. TH’s lead for monitoring and evaluation, Avi Kenny, relayed that before they had access to digital maps of the area and GPS locators their teams literally had no idea where they were when the mud would swallow their tires. Now those teams can plan their routes and recover from problems which arise in the field much faster and more securely. Although this wasn’t the intended aim of the donation, it has proved essential nonetheless. Better information, in this case literally putting the interior of Konobo on the map, once again leads to better health services for all.