The international community must help Ebola-affected countries reboot their health systems so that they emerge from the current crisis more resilient and more focused on prevention efforts than ever before, a high-level meeting coordinated by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva heard today.
“People in Ebola-affected countries are dying – not only from Ebola but also from other causes – because the majority of health facilities in these countries are either not functional or people are not using them for fear of contracting Ebola,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, the WHO’s Assistant Director-General of Health Systems and Innovation, in a news release.
“A health system has to be able to both absorb the shock of an emergency like Ebola, and to continue to provide regular health services such as immunization and maternal and child care.”
At the meeting, participants – which included Ministers of Health and Finance from countries at the epicentre of the Ebola epidemic as well as international organizations and development partners – discussed methods of integration for health services spanning clinical care to surveillance, health promotion, disease prevention and management and palliative care.
In particular, noted the WHO news release, areas of improvement included “significantly strengthening” the health workforce; enhancing community trust, engagement and ownership; and ensuring the development of resilient sub-national health systems. In addition, the movement of people across the borders of the Ebola-affected countries spotlighted the “important” need for a greater coordination of trans-national health plans and an alignment of surveillance systems.
Participants agreed that such efforts would require “substantial external financing” and include all sectors of Government, including health, finance, and education.
At the same time, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced an “expanded fight” against the Ebola virus in West Africa over the next six months.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson, Sarah Crowe, explained that the ramped-up efforts would cost an estimated $500 million, of which $200 million had already been secured. The new funding would also permit the agency to continue tackling what Ms. Crowe described as the “two major drivers” of the virus – the lack of early isolation of patients and unsafe burials – while also promoting “life-saving behaviours” and training 60,000 community volunteers.
Elisabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile told the press about her agency’s increased response in meeting the basic food and nutrition needs of affected families and communities across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Since April 2014, she said, more than two million people had received WFP food assistance, far surpassing the initially stated goal of 1 million.
Nevertheless, the agency still required $213.2 million to provide food and common humanitarian services until April 2015 with only $180 million having been received.