December marked one year since the first case of Ebola was found in Guinea, leading up to the deadliest Ebola epidemic in history.
Rajesh Panjabi, MD, MPH, of BWH’s Division of Global Health Equity and co-founder and CEO of Last Mile Health, recently returned from Liberia where he has been working with the government and other partners to respond. He spoke with WBUR’s “Here and Now” about the outbreak, the progress we have made and the new challenges we are facing in fighting the disease.
Panjabi told WBUR: “Ebola anywhere is a threat to people everywhere, and so you cannot have almost zero with Ebola. You’ve got to get to zero cases.”
Liberia is one of the poorest war-torn nations on earth. Today, it recovers from a devastating civil war which destroyed the majority of health facilities and caused a mass exodus of professional health workers. From 1999 until 2003, there was no system in place for health care, education or government.
When the war ended, the Liberia was left with 51 doctors in a country of almost 4 million. The numbers equate to around 10 doctors treating the entire city of San Francisco.
To receive access to health care, rural villagers must navigate narrow dirt paths winding through thick jungle – often impassable – to neighboring communities with life-saving health services. Consequently, diseases that are considered ‘easily treatable’ in the US can be a death sentence.
Rajesh Panjabi, MD, an associate physician in BWH's Department of Medicine, was recently recognized by Good Magazine, the Segal Family Foundation, and the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation for his commitment to saving the lives of women and children in the remote villages of Liberia.
Panjabi was nominated by Good Magazine to the GOOD100, a list that includes ideas and projects that are “pushing the world forward”. Panjabi was nominated for Last Mile Health, an organization he co-founded that trains former patients and other non-medical community members called Frontline Health Workers (FHWs) to become health advocates. By recruiting, hiring, equipping, and integrating these FHWs into the existing public health system, Last Mile Health is pioneering a system to bring health care directly into hard-to-reach, last mile villages.
Panjabi also accepted the Segal Family Foundation's Rising Star Award for his continued work in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Segal Family Foundation supports grassroots organizations directly, and through connecting them with innovative ideas, technical expertise, and capacity-building opportunities.
Finally, Panjabi's organization, Last Mile Health, won a prestigious three-year grant from the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation (DRKF), and Panjabi was added to the DRKF portfolio of social entrepreneurs. The Draper Richard Kaplan Foundation is a venture philanthropy fund that supports early-stage nonprofits that have the potential to change the world.
Rajesh Panjabi, MD, has a secret to balancing his work as a global health physician with his personal life as husband and father to a young son: the support and love of his wife, Amisha, a psychologist at the VA in Bedford, MA.
Dr. Panjabi, a native of Liberia, was profoundly impacted by his family’s experience fleeing the country during its civil war. As a 9 year old boy, he and his family escaped in a cargo plane to resettle in North Carolina. The memory of all those left behind on the tarmac is what he calls the “clarifying moment” that inspired him to make the commitment to return one day. He honored that commitment in 2005 when he returned as a medical student working with other survivors of Liberia’s civil war and American colleagues to form Tiyatien Health, now known in the United States as Last Mile Health.