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How Women Are Transforming Healthcare in Uganda, Kenya

Late in the 1870s, the well-known door-to-door cosmetics sales company Avon started in rural America when villages had poor access to quality goods and women had few money-earning opportunities, much like developing countries around the world today.

In the poorest countries, public health systems face significant challenges in delivering quality care. If you live somewhere like rural Africa, and your child gets sick, your options are bleak. Clinics are poorly funded and hard to reach, and medicines are often out of stock or counterfeit. Consequently, millions of children needlessly die from simple health problems that can be easily prevented or treated at almost no cost. Malaria, for example, is not hard to treat with the right drugs, yet over 1,200 children die from it every day, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

American entrepreneur Chuck Slaughter saw the potential of the “Avon lady” approach to revolutionize how healthcare and medicine are delivered to impoverished parts of Africa like Kenya and Uganda. The idea took off and in 2007, Slaughter launched Living Goods, an organisation that helps people in need gain access to life-changing products and services.

At the heart of Living Goods are local entrepreneurs who are recruited and trained to become community health promoters. These entrepreneurs are predominantly mothers in the community who have rich social connections that they use to spread health education and build their businesses. On a daily basis, they go door-to-door giving families health advice and educating them on how to prevent the biggest killers of children: malaria, diarrheal disease, and pneumonia. They also sell life-changing products such as simple treatments for illnesses, safe delivery kits, fortified foods, contraceptives, clean cookstoves and solar lights. They earn income from the profit of their sales, and aspire to make a difference to the lives of their families, friends and communities.

Living Goods provides each health promoter with all the tools needed to deal with a client’s health issues and to build a successful business in the process, including branded uniforms to signify quality and trust, visual referral guides and teaching tools, a thermometer to check for fevers, and measuring tape to chart growth. Most importantly, they are given a smart phone that has innovative diagnosis and pregnancy apps designed by Living Goods. The phones also allow the performance of health promoters to be monitored, which drives greater outcomes and impact.

Living Goods is solving major obstacles in public health — keeping vital medicines consistently in stock, and compensating and retaining local health workers.

In 2014, a landmark independent study proved the Living Goods model is reducing child deaths by over 25 per cent, at an annual cost of less than $2 per person. Moreover, researchers found that drug prices were 17 percent lower in areas where Living Goods agents operated, and counterfeit drugs were 50 percent less common than in regions without the health promoters.

By 2025, Living Goods hopes to improve the health and wealth of 50 million people in need. But they know they can’t solve the immense problems of the developing world alone. In order to achieve the meaningful long-term change, Living Goods is collaborating with NGOs, governments and funders and helping them to replicate and adapt its proven community health care model.

Living Goods is at the forefront of a new movement in global health that has the potential for game-changing social impact and scale. It is reaching villages that would otherwise have limited access to vital health services and is ensuring that children survive and thrive in their communities.

Earlier this year, Living Goods was awarded the 2016 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, presenting the organisation with US$1.25 million.

Visit the Living Goods website to learn more about the organization and support its work.