Earth Institute and Merck Foundation Expand Health Program in Africa's Millennium Villages


Community health worker examines child in Millennium Village of Bonsaaso, Ghana.

Community health worker examines child in Millennium Village of Bonsaaso, Ghana.

With $1 million in renewed support from The Merck Company Foundation, the Millennium Villages project will continue to strengthen its Community Health Worker (CHW) program to address gaps in primary health care availability in sub-Saharan Africa.  Initial funding of $869,000 from The Merck Company Foundation launched the first phase of the project in 2009 by establishing a skilled group of health workers throughout the Millennium Villages. The next phase will enhance and promote the success of the CHW program through different methods including leveraging new and existing partnerships with local, regional and national health officials to scale up primary care systems.

“We are extremely grateful for Merck’s continued leadership in the Community Health Workers program,” said Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute. “This effort reduces the enormous burden of disease and under-nutrition throughout the Millennium Villages in a low-cost and systematic way. And it’s working. We’ve seen significant reductions in maternal and infant deaths as well as disease prevalence in the villages. Merck remains at the forefront of building capacity for health care in the developing world and is helping to make a dramatic impact.”

“Community Health Workers are a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise would not have access to health care,” said Dr. Prabhjot Singh, Director, Program for Health Systems and Community Health Worker Advisor to the Millennium Villages project. “All over sub-Saharan Africa, sophisticated networks of community members are mobilizing on a very large scale and are empowered to interact with people in surrounding communities, serving as the main link between rural households and health care systems. Keeping CHWs engaged and equipped with the tools they need to do their job is critical.”

In the next phase, a mid-tier group of Senior Community Health Workers will be trained in supervision and performance evaluation strategies to enable them to assist managers with local operational oversight, and to provide direct performance feedback to CHWs, as part of a strong system of quality assurance. Capacity-building measures will also include specific training for CHW managers on supplies surveillance, budgeting, and strategic planning, as well as an analysis to uncover how to most effectively allocate limited resources to support job retention and performance.

“The Merck Company Foundation is committed to pursuing innovative programs to increase access to health care for low-income populations,” said Ellen W. Lambert, executive vice president, The Merck Company Foundation. “This Community Health Worker program moves us closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals for child and maternal health and the reduction of HIV, malaria and other endemic diseases in rural Africa by 2015. Working with organizations like the Earth Institute is key to improving health care in resource-limited areas.”

Another component of the program is the improvement of service delivery through informed decision-making processes and rigorous information feedback loops among communities, clinics, and management systems. CHW program organizers plan to implement the ChildCount+ mobile platform, a technology which allows CHWs to track and monitor information on child and maternal health and common disease treatment cases, and informs the design and implementation of MVP-wide protocols for community health workers based on best practices.

To take full advantage of these efforts, the MVP team will incorporate the outcomes of the initial CHW successes and its most recent scale-up efforts into policy recommendations and national implementation guides for each of the 10 countries where Millennium Villages are located.  In addition, the MVP team will engage the national Ministries of Health to foster health policy dialogue as a bridge to long-term, sustainable in-country support for MVP activities. 

Related links:
The Rising Tide of Community Health Workers by Prabhjot Singh – March 2, 2011
The Community Health Workers program receives an Award for Excellence by Jackline Oluoch – February 8, 2011
TEDxBrooklyn, CHW presentation by Dr. Prabhjot Singh – December 28, 2010
Achieving International Health Objectives with New Media and Technology by Prabhjot Singh – May 10, 2010
Community Health Worker Training in Dertu, Kenya by Jackline Oluoch – September 9, 2009
The Earth Institute and Merck Company Foundation Collaborate to Strengthen Health Services in Rural Africa – June 30, 2009
Community Health Workers at the Millennium Villages Project increase access to the health workforce, Global Health Workforce Alliance