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A community health worker from Last Mile Health meets with a patient and her mother.

Boosting Capacity to Respond to Emerging Health Crises

The World Bank estimated that in 2015, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia lost a combined $1.6 billion in forgone economic growth.

May 2017

In March 2014, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa quickly became the most significant spread of this disease in history. Cases primarily impacted residents of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Assessing the impact two years after the outbreak was devastating. More than 29,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died, including more than 500 healthcare workers. Because of the disease’s severity and fear of contagion, schools, markets, businesses, airline and shipping routes, and borders closed, halting tourism and trading. The World Bank estimated that in 2015, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia lost a combined $1.6 billion in economic growth.

Although providing immediate relief was the first priority, it was also critical to help recover the healthcare system, bolstering resiliency to combat future epidemics. Though the Ebola epidemic is under control, with no known cure flare-ups are likely to continue. Further, in its wake, the outbreak left about 17,000 survivors, many of whom report post-recovery symptoms so severe that they may require medical care for months or even years.

During the epidemic’s first few months, Partners in Health, a global organization committed to improving the health of poor and marginalized people, assembled a consortium of more than 20 public health facilities to provide critical screening, treatment, prevention, and containment strategies throughout all vulnerable rural areas.

This CFP-supported consortium leverages the collective expertise of several nonprofit organizations. It builds capacity to respond to the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic, strengthens systemic healthcare for ongoing service to patients, and provides for epidemic management. As part of this initiative, International Medical Corps trained nearly 1,500 health workers in infection prevention and control. Direct Relief, a global nonprofit that provides medical resources to those in need, distributed medical supplies and Midwife Kits (essential tools and pharmaceuticals to manage prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care) to 100 hospitals and health centers in the region. Last Mile Health, dedicated specifically to providing healthcare to those living in remote communities, recruited, hired, and trained 120 new community health workers to provide care in isolated areas in Sierra Leone. Wellbody Alliance, a Sierra Leonean-based healthcare organization (now under the umbrella of Partners in Health), established treatment clinics and trained professionals and community health workers in Liberia. Partners in Health and Wellbody Alliance combined efforts to establish treatment clinics and train community health workers, targeting Ebola survivors, providing primary care, and constructing new triage and isolation units to reduce the impact of future disease outbreaks.

The concerted work of these organizations not only addressed the immediate needs of an outbreak crisis, but boosted current capacity to ameliorate and even avert future crises.