women waiting at clinic The Washington Post/Getty Images

Too Many Health Clinics Hurt Developing Countries

The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa highlighted the urgent need for stronger, more resilient health-care systems in developing countries. But, far from ensuring that outcome, the hasty construction of more health facilities can undermine it.

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE – Donors like the World Bank and the World Health Organization often urge developing countries to invest in national health systems. But while rushing to construct clinics and other medical facilities in even the remotest regions may seem like a straightforward approach to ensuring universal health coverage, that has not turned out to be true.

The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa highlighted the urgent need for stronger, more efficient, and more resilient health-care systems in developing countries. But when countries rush to build more clinics, the resulting facilities tend to be hastily constructed and lacking in the equipment, supplies, and staff needed to deliver vital health services effectively.

In my frequent visits to rural areas of my native Sierra Leone, I have seen more than a few health facilities that communities could do without. A newly refurbished facility in Masunthu, for example, had scant equipment and no water in the taps. The facilities in nearby Maselleh and Katherie had cracked walls, leaky roofs, and so few cupboards that supplies like syringes and medical registers had to be stacked on the floor.

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