At the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2014, prenatal and antenatal visits and routine health services for HIV and AIDS, TB, and malaria became unavailable, as health care workers were re-deployed to fight Ebola—or succumbed to the disease. Infectious diseases such as Ebola kill millions, especially those in countries with weak and failing health systems.
Strong health systems are built to address infectious disease and prevent outbreaks from becoming epidemics. One of the most crucial lessons from the Ebola crisis in West Africa is the necessity for health systems with sufficient funding, staff, and equipment. The understaffed, fragmented, and under-resourced health systems in countries affected quickly became overwhelmed.
In Liberia, MSH is working to improve water and sanitation to prevent infection. Handwashing with clean water not only prevents future outbreaks of Ebola but also other infections that take the lives of mothers and children. In Ethiopia, a mother loses her husband to TB, becomes ill, and is unable to care for her children. After walking eight hours to the nearest clinic, staffed by MSH-trained health workers, she and her 18-month-old son receive TB treatment and after six months, are cured. In Tanzania, Uganda, and Liberia, rural women and children go directly to mostly women-owned accredited drug shops for treatment of fever, increasing access to malaria diagnosis, treatment, or referral.
Reducing high maternal and child mortality due to infectious diseases in countries such as Liberia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda is achieved through a combination of health service and infrastructure interventions. Access to MSH-trained health workers and medicines is threatened by poor roads or health facilities located miles away. Some facilities are not staffed at all. All of these challenges to good health require an overall strengthening of a fragile health system. MSH is working hard to stop the next global pandemic.
Photo Credit: Glenn Ruga