News / Africa

Community-Based Health Program Reduces Child Mortality in Mali

Malian children sing at a Koranic school in Gao, northern Mali, Feb. 13, 2013.
Malian children sing at a Koranic school in Gao, northern Mali, Feb. 13, 2013.
Jennifer Lazuta
— An innovative new health model run in Mali since 2008 has dramatically reduced the number of children dying from common diseases. A group of American university researchers wanted to find out why.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) said that the rate of child mortality in a community outside of Bamako, Mali, fell tenfold between 2008 and 2011 - to just 17 deaths per 1,000 children under the age of five.
During that period, Mali’s Ministry of Health and international NGOs began piloting what researchers were calling "innovative intervention measures.”

A UCSF researcher, Dr. Ari Johnson, co-authored a study on the program. He attributed much of its success to earlier, faster care for sick children.

“The idea there is that the primary causes of child mortality, both in Mali and around the world, are extremely time sensitive. They progress rapidly. Most children killed by malaria, for example, die within 48 hours from the moment they say: ‘Mommy, I’m sick.’ Diarrheal disease, pneumonia and neonatal illnesses as well all progress and kill rapidly, and so these are conditions in which hours matter, days matter,” said Dr. Johnson. 

Instead of waiting for patients to come to them, about two dozen specially trained community health workers in Yirimadjo, Mali, began going door-to-door in 2008. They visited more than 7,000 households each month, looking for sick children or those showing any of 16 danger signs for childhood disease, such as difficulty breathing or diarrhea.

Health care workers either treated the sick child in the home, or in some cases, referred them to a clinic. Follow-up visits were made after 24 and 48 hours.

Health workers also have been training families to recognize the early symptoms of some of the most common diseases. Malaria can start with a mild fever, or headache, that seems to go away on its own. A mild cough can progress to pneumonia.

Johnson said community empowerment has been key to the program’s success.

“The health system aimed to reach patients not only early in the course of their illness, but also even before they got sick, including interventions in education, community organizing and employment opportunities. All of which aimed to empower community members to overcome the root causes of what made them vulnerable to disease in the first place: conditions of poverty,” he said.

Health care was also made free for children under age five so that money would not be a deterrent for seeking treatment. The program was described as relatively “low-cost” - but no figure was given.

The program in Yirimadjo was created and is run by the Mali-based NGO Muso and the Dakar-based NGO Tostan. Executive director and founder of Tostan, Molly Melching, said that this kind of integrated approach to health and development was most effective.

“Tostan’s major goal has always been to educate, to get people at the grassroots the information they need to make important decisions and become really involved in development efforts themselves and actually own their own development. And you can only do this, if people not only have the information they need, but also the organizational skills they would need and management skills that they would need, not only to lead their own development, but then manage them themselves and be so fully and totally involved that they would sustain any projects that would be started during the course of an intervention," said Melching.

Researchers said more study was needed, but that this kind of intensive community-based intervention showed quite a bit of promise.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.