Ebola epidemic shows a failure of health services

Ebola epidemic shows a failure of health servicesSADC health ministers agreed that the public needs to better understand Ebola to allow for early detection of possible cases

The spread and severity of the West African Ebola epidemic is due to a lack of basic public health infrastructure, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan.

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Some 6 500 people have already died of Ebola this year and yesterday the first Ebola case was picked up in the USA travelled from Liberia to Dallas.

Chan opened the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Cape Town yesterday via a video link, opting to remain at the WHO headquarters in Geneva to co-ordinate the global response to Ebola.

“The Ebola epidemic shows how decades of health services neglect can bring fragile countries to their knees,” said Chan. “Without public health services, no country can withstand the shocks that are being delivered with more frequency in the 21st century.”

Some 6 500 people have already died of Ebola this year and yesterday the first Ebola case was picked up in the USA travelled from Liberia to Dallas.

“Nearly everything is missing in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Not enough health workers, hospitals, protective gear, infection control,” Chan said.

South Africa Health Director-General Malebona Matsoso said the countries worst affected by Ebola were “post-conflict countries”, and that their fragile health services were “under threat of complete collapse”.

She appealed to the 1 700 delegates from 90 countries to “find and share effective solutions” to build strong health systems able to address epidemics such as Ebola.[quote float=”left”]“The Ebola epidemic shows how decades of health services neglect can bring fragile countries to their knees”

“We can’t just respond to a crisis, but need to find long-term sustainable ways to intervene,” said Matsoso, adding that South African health workers had returned yesterday morning Sierra Leone, where they had set up a mobile laboratory to help diagnose Ebola.

US Global AIDS Co-ordinator Dr Deborah Birx said Ebola showed “global health is only as strong as its weakest link”, and that the world had a “moral obligation to identify what needs to be done”.

“Where a health system is functional, there can be immediate diagnosis and containment of Ebola,” Birx told Health-e News. “But in this case, patients were unable to get even basic services.”

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has estimated that, under the worst-case scenario, up to 1,4 million people could become infected with Ebola in the next four months.

The CDC’s best-case scenario is between 11 000 and 27 000 new cases – but only if 70 percent of Ebola patients are treated to contain the epidemic. At present, Liberia is only able to treat 18 percent of cases and Sierra Leone, 40 percent of cases. – Health-e News Service.