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Doctor Who Won Million-Dollar TED Prize Focuses On Community Health Workers

Photo from Last Mile Health

Dr. Raj Panjabi has enough to make his dreams come true – he was the 2017 recipient of the TED annual award amounting to a million dollars. On Tuesday night, he shared his “wish to change the world.”

TED, a nonprofit organization that aims to support “ideas worth spreading,” sponsors TED talks, annually honors an “exceptional individual with a creative and bold vision to solve a timely, pressing problem.” In December 2017, the organization awarded its million-dollar prize to Panjabi, a doctor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, NPR reports.

Panjabi announced that he intends to use the money to aid community health workers – non-medical staff who have been trained to assist in health care facilities located in remote areas.

Community health workers keep records, remind residents on vaccinations, even conduct medical tests and provide therapeutic treatment.

This under-appreciated group consists of both volunteers and paid workers. Panjabi is well acquainted with community health workers, having founded Last Mile Health, a group of 300 that works in rural Liberia.

There have been community health workers since the 1800s in Russia, and China set up its own program in the 1920s. Today, they are present in many countries. In the USA alone, over 48,000 community health workers do everything from helping diabetics to educating communities on nutrition. In 2012, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a report saying that community health workers save lives and save money.

Panjabi aims to increase the level of training among community health workers, and will use the TED grant to start the Community Health Academy. The organization will employ technology to “modernize” how workers are educated. This includes online instruction, both for rank-and-file and for supervisors. This distance-learning approach should prove effective as it takes hours, sometimes days, for community health workers to get to the main cities, Panjabi says.

The Community Health Academy will be based in Liberia, but Panjabi aims to make it a global effort.


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