Two years ago, Kla Williams’s lost his job when his hometown of Monrovia, Liberia, was overwhelmed by Ebola. He followed his impulse to help his country and is now a skilled infection prevention and control worker – one of hundreds of West Africans AmeriCares has trained in the lifesaving skills that prevent infections from spreading in hospitals, clinics and homes. “We are ready for any kind of outbreak, but before we were not ready,” says Williams.
Skilled health workers are critical to a full recovery. Before the Ebola crisis, families in Liberia and Sierra Leone had a difficult time accessing health services – rural clinics and urban hospitals were crowded and understaffed. The spread of Ebola made the situation more dire – not only did health workers die from the virus, but patients were reluctant to seek health services, as hospitals and clinics had sometimes unwittingly spread Ebola. As a result, people stayed away from health facilities: In Grand Bassa County, Liberia, people seeking care decreased by 20 percent; the number of pregnant women making clinic appointments dropped by 19 percent.
AmeriCares is working in Liberia and Sierra Leone to strengthen the workforce and health facilities and rebuild trust. At two hospitals serving Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, AmeriCares is training more than 300 hospital staff and 500 nursing students in infection control, as well as supplying critical safety gear and upgrading facilities to build in safeguards against spread of infection.
In Grand Bassa County in Liberia, AmeriCares is working with the Ministry of Health to ensure that health services for mothers and newborns are expanded and improved at two district hospitals. AmeriCares is giving health workers critical midwifery skills, to identify problems and help women in childbirth as well as providing medicine, medical supplies and equipment and building new, separate clinic space for safe birthing. One recently completed facility renovation now serves some 15,000 residents in and around Zondo Town in Grand Bassa with a modern maternal/child clinic.
“These programs will improve health at the community level, strengthening health systems to be resilient day to day as well as in times of crisis,” says Elikem Tomety-Archer, AmeriCares senior director of Africa and Middle East partnerships. “Women are leaders, so by focusing on them, we will help rebuild trust in the health system as well.”