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Health service gaps in Africa led to Ebola epidemic

Written by Lisa Denney

While the international community’s role in pressing emergencies presently faced by Iraq, the Central African Republic and Northern Nigeria remains mired in uncertainty, another potentially lethal threat faces West Africa. This is a threat that we can do something about. The Ebola virus outbreak that started in Guinea and has now spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone is the deadliest in recorded history with MSF and the WHO declaring the situation ‘out of control’. ​Here’s where the international community can help. The health systems in these countries are weak. If donors and individuals want to support aid that shows tangible results in relatively short timeframes, stepping up support to the Ebola response seems like a good option that could save potentially thousands of lives. Prevention might be better than cure, but it is also much harder to build capacity to do this. This is because preventive capacity is not only about technical knowledge (of how to identify Ebola cases, for example) but also about how well all the different parts of health and sanitation systems work together from the national, to district, to local level, and how this system interacts with local dynamics – like preferences for traditional healers, stigma attached to illness, and so on. Building this capacity to prevent future health emergencies is a long-term endeavour, but one that becomes more critical with each epidemic in the region.