Ebola’s Long Shadow: West Africa Struggles to Rebuild Its Ravaged Health-Care System

Monday, June 8, 2015

J.J. Dossen Memorial Hospital, on the southeastern tip of this nation recently declared free of Ebola, has three doctors and spotty electricity. Sixteen of its 46 nurses left during the Ebola crisis. When two motorcycle accident victims needed X-rays, the hospital dispatched them in its only ambulance on a bumpy eight-hour ride to the nearest facility with a machine.

The deadly disease may have receded, but it is still exacting a heavy toll. Run-down, poorly staffed and equipped health facilities allowed Ebola to explode. Since it was identified in early 2014, the epidemic has claimed the lives of 507 health-care workers in three West African countries, all of which already were short of medical professionals. The health-care system was so overwhelmed with Ebola victims that many other patients couldn’t receive care for malaria, heart disease or pregnancy complications. That bill is coming due.

“There are more people who are going to die from Ebola, but not have Ebola,” says Paul Farmer, a Harvard professor and co-founder of the Boston-based charity Partners in Health.

Now, as the virus ebbs, the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—racked for years by civil wars, coups, and unrest—are joining forces to heal from the crisis. Working with foreign donors, they see an opportunity to remake health care in one of the poorest corners of the world, where more than 27,181 people have been sickened with Ebola and more than 11,162 have died. Better health systems will save more lives here and prevent future outbreaks that could spread around the world, they say.

But the decaying state of J.J. Dossen and dozens of other facilities like it illustrate the monumental task ahead.

Dr. Farmer is immersed in the challenge. Eventually, he hopes to see a gleaming new hospital in Liberia where patients are treated for Ebola or other diseases by specialists using state-of-the-art equipment. A Harvard Medical School professor, physician and anthropologist, Dr. Farmer envisions nothing less than “a world-class teaching hospital.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
infectious diseases