In December 2013, a little boy in a village in Guinea, became ill and died just a few days later. This death, unnoticed at the time by few beyond family and neighbors, set off a horrific Ebola outbreak, infecting over 26,900 people and killing more than 11,000. The most heavily affected countries include the three neighboring West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea – poor countries with limited resources, weakened health systems and porous borders. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern in August 2014, and soon thereafter the UN Security Council established the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) to coordinate efforts to stop the epidemic.
The loss of so many health workers has devastated health systems that were already under-resourced and weakened by civil conflict, leaving people with malaria, typhoid, complicated childbirth and other illnesses without access to even basic care. In Liberia, for example, the country had only one doctor for every 100,000 people before the Ebola struck; Sierra Leone had but 2 doctors for every 100,000. In the cource of the outbreak, a total of 869 health worker have been infected in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone; and 507 have died.
In May 2015 Liberia was declared Ebola free 42 days after burial of the last confirmed case. At the end of June, however, three new cases were confirmed and vigilance remains high. The outbreak continues in Sierra Leone and Guinea with 10-30 new cases still being reported each week.
AmeriCares first responded to the outbreak in April of 2014 and has since worked to protect health workers, restore and improve health services and expand Ebola treatment capacity. To achieve these objectives, AmeriCares has recruited staff for and supplied Ebola treatment units in Liberia; provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline health workers staffing health facilities in the three countries; and is now working to rebuild and strengthen the weakened health care systems with funding and technical assistance.
With the support of our corporate partners and donors, 45 shipments of medical aid have already been delivered to over 100 partners in West Africa to help treat Ebola patients, provide protective gear for health workers and prevent further infections. To date, we have shipped over 7 million units of medicine and medical supplies, including 2.2 million units of protective equipment and 227,543 course treatments of medicine to partners in West Africa.
At the height of the outbreak in September of 2014, we recruited physicians and nurses to staff one of the Ebola treatment units (ETU) built by the U.S. Department of Defense in Buchanan outside of Monrovia in Grand Bass County as part of a partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in coordination with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and funded by USAID to provide qualified medical personnel and adequate medical supplies to treat Ebola patients. We managed the facility and its staff of over 180 all the way through the decommissioning process in May 2015 after the outbreak was contained in Liberia. We also supplied medicine and supplies to three other Ebola centers, outfitting more than 600 health workers with everything needed to treat and care for infected patients for six months.
In addition to updating protocols and maintaining a constant state of readiness to isolate and treat Ebola patients, Buchanan ETU staff members also took part in offering other important community outreach and training services in the area of Grand Bass County:
- mobile health clinics to deliver care to families in isolated areas,
- a measles vaccination program that resulted in a nearly 90 percent vaccination rate in the county
- psychosocial support for students and teacher in county schools
- joined in an assessment of 28 health facilities that will help identify gaps in service and capacity and serve as a reference for future health system restoration and recovery.
- procured and supplied desperately needed hospital equipment and furniture to help restore health care at the Liberian Government Hospital in Buchanan
- as well as important infection prevention and control training for health workers, teachers and other school personnel which helped support the reopening of schools.
We have continued to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to care givers in interim care centers for children who have been exposed to Ebola and require temporary care outside the home for 21 days – some of whom have parents who are ill or have died from the disease. AmeriCares also provides reunification kits for these children when they leave the care centers that include food, clothing and personal care supplies to replace lost items and help ease a child’s transition back into the community.
Where the outbreak began in early 2014, we continue to provide our partners with medical equipment and supplies, and our largest shipment to date of 40,000 lbs. of PPE will be distributed to over 180 health facilities. The shipment also contains more than 15,000 liters of bleach which will support ChildFund International, our partner in Guinea, working with health clinics, health posts and community health workers to maintain infection prevention and control standards and to rebuild community trust in the healthcare system.
With corporate, foundation and individual donor support, AmeriCares has set in motion plans to help rebuild and strengthen health systems in West Africa that have been decimated by Ebola.
Liberia: AmeriCares has established staff, an office and warehouse to manage the recovery and distribute aid. We are working to strengthen maternal and child health services in Grand Bassa County, Liberia. To increase access to and improve health services for mothers and newborns, the 18-month project includes facility upgrades (including some construction), equipment, medicines and staff training at three health facilities – one hospital and two clinics. One recently completed facility renovation now serves some 15,000 residents in and around Zondo Town in Grand Bassa County with a modern maternal/child clinic.
Sierra Leone: AmeriCares has committed to providing 12 months of infection prevention and control training in Bonthe District for all health workers at Bonthe Government Hospital and Mattru Hospital. This health worker and patient safety intervention will contribute to long-term health systems strengthening and prepare the country for future infectious disease outbreaks.
Guinea: We will continue supporting frontline health workers with protective equipment and supplies as they work to end the outbreak.
As local and international efforts significantly slow the spread of Ebola in West Africa, AmeriCares continues to support treatment of Ebola patients and protect health workers, while beginning to rebuild and strengthen devastated health systems.