In October 2006, Cecelia lay emaciated on the mud floor of her hut. For months she had been too weak to walk from her rainforest village in rural Liberia to reach help at the nearest health center –eight hours away. “We, the women, have to find ways to survive,” she said. “If we don’t brush gardens, if we don’t plant crops, then we can suffer and get sick. And, still when we get sick we can’t find the medicines.” One morning, out of desperation, her neighbors sold their sparse possessions and sent Cecelia by truck to the clinic in Zwedru. But, by the time she arrived it was too late. Before the end of that year, Cecelia and eleven other village women were diagnosed with and died from AIDS in Zwedru. The women had gone months without medicines to treat their disease in their villages – only because they lived too far from a health worker.
Tiyatien Health grew out of response to the suffering and loss of these twelve women. In March 2007 in Zwedru, the remote Liberian forest community Cecilia was sent to, Raj Panjabi and fellow Liberian refugees who had returned from war, including a small group of Liberian community health workers and women with AIDS, partnered with the Liberian government and American health professionals to respond to an HIV epidemic. The group had grown outraged that villagers were dying from AIDS while stockpiles of treatment of were going unused in the capital -- all because those villagers lacked access to doctors. Together, the group proposed a radical alternative: an HIV treatment program led by non-doctors, local villagers and even former patients. Though controversial, their bold proposal was approved and the pilot initially launched out of a gutted bathroom of a war-torn health center in a remote forest. With resilience to incredible challenges and the passion of the group, the project became the first public rural HIV treatment program, known then as the HIV Equity Initiative.
What began as a small and unlikely community-organized project in response to the crisis of women with AIDS has since grown into what today is Tiyatien Health. Our community-based strategy has been expanded from HIV treatment to introducing home-based chronic disease services for rural women with mental illnesses and children suffering from epilepsy. Our frontline health workers have carried out over 50,000 patient visits. Our programs have not only provided quality health care, but also social and economic support. TH’s frontline health worker program has responded to a major refugee crisis, conducted groundbreaking scientific studies that have shaped national Liberian health policy and has been used to train the next generation of global health leaders through curricula of prominent institutions, including Harvard Medical School.
Tiyatien Health's vision is that one day, even those people in the last mile villages of Liberia will benefit from dignified, high-quality health care through ground-up, rather than trickle-down methods, of health delivery. Today, we are making that "justice in health" a reality.