Last Mile Health is thrilled to share that Co-Founder Dr. Raj Panjabi has been appointed by President Joe Biden as the President’s Malaria Coordinator to lead the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative. Panjabi, who has served as a physician and medical professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, co-founded Last Mile Health, a global leader in rural community health systems, in 2007. He recently stepped down after serving 14 years as CEO.
“My family and I arrived in America thirty years ago after fleeing civil war in Liberia. The community of Americans who rallied around my family helped us build back our lives,” said Panjabi. “It is an honor to serve the country that helped build back my own life as part of the Biden-Harris Administration. I am humbled by the challenges our country and our world faces to build back better. But, as I have learned in America, we are not defined by the conditions we face, we are defined by how we respond.”
The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) is an interagency initiative led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Launched in 2005, PMI partners with 24 high-burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Greater Mekong Subregion of Southeast Asia, alongside global partners, to save lives from malaria and strengthen health systems. In partnership with the global malaria community, PMI has helped save more than seven million lives and prevented more than one billion cases of malaria. But progress has slowed in recent years. In 2019, there were over 220 million malaria cases globally with over 400,000 deaths from the disease, in part due to limited access to testing and treatment in rural areas—which has been further disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his new role, Panjabi will work with the PMI team, PMI-supported countries, and its global partners to further reduce malaria disease and deaths and advance the goal of eliminating malaria within a generation. “Having cared for malaria patients alongside PMI, USAID, and CDC staff, I have seen first-hand that they are amongst the most dedicated professionals in the world,” Panjabi said. “As it is for many of them, this mission is personal for me. My grandparents and parents were infected with malaria while living in India. As a child in Liberia, I fell sick with malaria, and as a doctor serving with Last Mile Health in Africa, I have seen this disease take too many lives.”
As the U.S. President’s Malaria Coordinator, Panjabi will have the opportunity to leverage lessons learned from Last Mile Health’s work with Ministries of Health in Africa to build rural health systems that fight malaria and save lives. In Liberia, Panjabi and Last Mile Health teamed up with the Ministry of Health, working alongside its partners, including PMI, USAID, CDC, and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, among others, to train and support the nation’s community health workforce to increase access to malaria testing and treatment in rural and remote communities. Today in Liberia, community health workers, with support from nurses, treat half of all rural children under five—and these life-saving services have been sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My colleagues and I have seen how PMI and its partners have saved lives in the countries where it operates. We’ve seen the relief on the faces of parents whose children survived malaria because they were treated by health workers,” Panjabi said. “We’ve seen how these investments strengthen health systems where they were weak and help stop other epidemics at their source—keeping all of us safer.”
Last Mile Health congratulates Dr. Panjabi on his appointment, and looks forward to his leadership on this critical global challenge.
Photo Credit: Skoll Foundation