I just read a short article in Time about community health workers.
In the developing world, health care is being increasingly augmented by these workers. If they have a certain measure of secondary schooling, they get one year of on-the-job training, and they are saving lives.
The stigma of AIDS in Africa is still so great that many choose not to seek treatment. A community health worker (from here on out known as CHW) will visit people in their homes, help them get tested at home and get counseling, and can encourage them to get into a treatment program.
Many women choose to have their children at home, but a CHW can arrange emergency transport to a hospital delivery room, lowering infant mortality; those who are too weakened by diseases such as cholera to get to a clinic can receive supportive treatment at home; and children with malaria can be assessed, helped, and hospitalized if needed.
There are programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to train CHWs. The biggest program is India's National Rural Health Mission. In a little over three years, the program has trained and mobilized over half a million new CHWs. They are called an ASHA, which stands for Accredited Social Health Activist, but is also the Hindi word for "hope."
Companies and organizations are joining the fight. Ericsson provides phones and systems for training, reporting statistics, and arranging for emergency transport, and the Gates Foundation is providing mobile phones for consultation purposes. An Indian computer company has worked with the government of one of that country's states and was able to provide emergency response for 80 million people.
Such supportive care could mean a breakthrough in controlling diseases that result in millions of deaths. Expanded financial support for CHWs and training programs would strengthen this care even further. And take note, America: we've got plenty of people in our own country, rural AND urban, who desperately need access to health care and would benefit greatly from such efforts. I hope our government takes a look at what is happening in developing countries with these CHWs and is able to learn something from it.