Bay Area doctors making big impact in Mali

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The work of a husband and wife team from the Bay Area is raising hopes for some of the youngest victims of disease in the developing world. When we first met doctors Ari Johnson and Jessica Beckerman, they were splitting time, treating patients at Zuckerberg, San Francisco General Hospital, and half-a-world away in the West African nation of Mali. But their ultimate goal was training volunteers to act as a lightning fast strike team.

"Time is the key here. So speed we think is the most important element," says Dr. Johnson.

He says some of the most common killers of children in Mali are diseases that are curable. So their non-profit MUSO began organizing local outreach teams that could canvass villages, literally knocking on doors, looking for sick children. They armed the teams with blood tests and drugs to treat malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea.

"Because if you can reach patients fast, there's no reason that patients should be dying of malaria, or diarrheal diseases or pneumonia," Dr. Johnson believes

And now, less than a decade since they launched the outreach model, a newly published study is pointing to its promise. In the neighborhoods around Mali's capital city, deaths of children under the age of five have plummeted, from one in seven, to one in 142.

"The lowest in Sub Saharan Africa," he observes, looking over a graphic of the statistics.

But Johnson believes an equally big take away is the average cost, about eight dollars a year, per patient.

"The most important lesson from this new study is the global child mortality crisis, which kills more than five million children every year, this is solvable. Even in some of the most challenging settings, we have everything we need to solve this crisis," says Dr. Johnson.

The study did not include comparisons to a control group, a different standard care, but the results were impressive enough that MUSO is now hoping to conduct a large randomized study of 100-thousand patients or more over the next several years.

Click here for more information on MUSO and their work.

Written and produced by Tim Didion
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