Health in a Time of Ebola

As panic about the spread of Ebola grips Liberia – as well as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria – people there are increasingly associating clinicians and health-care facilities with exposure to the disease. Ensuring that they continue to seek care when they need it requires greater investment in community health workers.

NEW YORK – In Sub-Saharan Africa, any child with a fever should receive immediate medical care to prevent death from malaria or pneumonia. But, as panic about the spread of Ebola grips Liberia – as well as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria – people there are increasingly associating clinicians and health-care facilities with exposure to the disease. Ensuring that they continue to seek care when they need it requires improvements to frontline clinics and investment in locally hired community health workers (CHWs) to reach the vulnerable in their homes.

To be sure, the shortcomings of Liberia’s health-care system long preceded the Ebola outbreak, with roughly 28% of the country’s four million citizens lacking access to adequate facilities. The 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement may have ended years of civil war, but it left the country with only 51 doctors and decimated infrastructure.

With very few qualified health-care professionals, repairing the health-care system demands more than building new hospitals and clinics across Liberia’s densely rain-forested countryside. Fortunately, the government, like others in Sub-Saharan Africa, recognizes the need to invest in training CHWs in rural counties to treat diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria – the three major causes of death in children under five years old.

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