Across rural Sub-Saharan Africa, community health workers serve as a vital link between households and health systems. Instead of being forced to risk a potentially dangerous journey to a distant clinic, families now have access to a paid professional who can address basic health issues, right in their community. Armed with protocols, rapid diagnostic testing, and a small arsenal of medicine and mobile phones, these local community health workers can make decisions that save lives.
Community health workers have been around for 40 years, effecting change in countries from Brazil to Nigeria. Today, however, the convergence of dispersed management systems, diagnostic and mobile technology, and political leadership is minting a new generation of agile community health networks. Now the same techniques that are making community health workers the heroes of health in the developing world are being adopted by those seeking to prevent and manage chronic disease in places like New York City.
I launched City Health Works! with the support of Columbia Business School and the Earth Institute with the goal of filling the gaps in our increasingly expensive and overburdened health care system by bringing the best aspects of low-resource community health networks to the US. We’re building a peer-to-peer network of community members who use evidence-based lifestyle improvement techniques to change lives for the better. We see community health workers as the first line of defense against a national epidemic of diabetes, depression, and other chronic conditions. City Health Works! also believes that creating new, high-quality jobs in healthcare, based directly in the neighborhoods where people live, work, and play will benefit the public in more ways than one.
As technology improves the ways we monitor our health at home, the long tail of health care delivery will only grow longer. Creating safe and resilient links between health systems and communities is a challenge our approach is built to solve.
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About the Author
Founder and Executive Director of City Health Works!
Manmeet has worked in New York City to improve the working conditions of home health workers, in India to stabilize the chaotic lives of construction workers, and in South Africa to help HIV-positive workers build a for-profit enterprise. After finishing her MBA at Columbia Business School, she launched City Health Works!, an organization that aims to harness the power of community networks to create jobs and improve health in New York City.