The World Health Organisation has called for urgent assistance in the West African sub-Sahara region, stating that without much needed investment in the healthcare systems of countries such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone a full recovery from the Ebola outbreak would be impossible.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, recently explained at “Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone entered the Ebola epidemic with severely underfunded health systems. After a year of handling far too many severely ill patients, the surviving staff need support, better protection, compensation and reinforcements. The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse.”
According to a WHO report released in May 2015, Ebola took an exceptional toll on health workers. They were 20-30 times more likely to contract the disease than the general public, given the number of patients they saw and treated. More than 800 contracted Ebola, and more than 400 died—with the outcome of almost one quarter of the cases unknown.
To rebuild their health systems and provide services through the end of December 2017, Guinea has budgeted $1.176 billion and still needs to raise $386.5 million; Liberia has budgeted $550 million and still needs to raise $169.7 million; and Sierra Leone budgeted $361 million and still needs to raise an estimated amount of $140 million.
A sizable investment in the health systems would be a profound change of course for the region. As with other low-income countries, the governments of all three countries have not spent enough money on health care to provide basic services, and the life expectancy of the populations has suffered greatly as a result.
In 2013, Guinea spent $7 per person on health services and the life expectancy was 52 years; Liberia spent $14 per person and the life expectancy was 56 years; Sierra Leone spent $11 and the life expectancy was 49 years. In contrast, Norway spent $7160 per person and the life expectancy was 81 years.
“When people think global health security they think disease surveillance,” said Dr. Moeti. “Nobody wants to see the Ebola outbreak start in West Africa and spread around the world. But disease surveillance cannot happen in a vacuum. Emerging diseases cannot be detected and controlled if there are no laboratories, hospitals and health personnel.”