As we are inundated with media coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, including Sierra Leone, it is important to recognize the root causes of this international public health crisis. On a global scale, these causes are war, poverty and privatized healthcare. By addressing these deeper root causes we can develop the tools and resources required to address the immediate and massive needs of those affected by the current crisis—the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history—and prevent similar complex global health crises in the future.
1. War is the Greatest Threat to Global Public Health
Every year war destroys the lives of millions of people around the world. In contemporary conflicts up to 90% of the victims are civilians. In addition to causing countless casualties and physical injuries war also decimates the basic systems and structures needed for a healthy society.
Ebola is the latest in a long list of medical needs in West Africa, one of the poorest regions in the world due to years of war. Even though the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone ended over a dozen years ago, there remains a serious lack of international investment and support to rebuild their healthcare system. Years of conflict in Sierra Leone have destroyed its medical infrastructure, such as hospitals, clinics and medical schools, leaving much of the population without access to trained health care professionals equipped with necessary supplies. This pervasive and prolonged situation leaves the local population dangerously vulnerable to a crisis such as the current Ebola outbreak.
It is only after peace has returned and medical infrastructure has been rebuilt that the people of Sierra Leone will have the resources to properly handle a crisis like the current Ebola outbreak.
2. Wealth Disparity is a Major Obstacle to Treatment
Enormous income disparity creates unstable societies that are susceptible to crisis. Lack of affordable access to basic health care adds to the quick spread of a deadly virus such as Ebola. The ability of neighboring countries to respond to the spread of Ebola can exacerbate the current crisis and demonstrates the challenges post-conflict nations face.
Income disparity correlates to differences in life expectancy. The average life span in West Africa is already only 47 years, while in the United States the average life expectancy is 80. Improving the health and life expectancy of the most vulnerable among us is a key indicator for the progress of global heath.
In order to equip all nations to handle a global health crisis of this magnitude, it is important to invest in healthcare programs in these areas. The Ebola crisis has been going on for over three months and will most likely last several more. Many victims are and will continue to survive this horrible disease, however, once the crisis is resolved, the survivors in this region will still struggle to find affordable access to basic healthcare until the international community deepens its investments in nationwide and cross border solutions focused on areas of greatest need.
3. A Lack of Investment in the Highest Level of Healthcare
Quality healthcare is a top-down system. Surgeons, physicians, nurses and public health professionals are limited by the quality of the system in which they work. Those looking to gain certain skills or experience have the opportunity to grow and excel when working in a fully supported system that includes the knowledge and tools to provide the most advanced levels of care such as surgery and medical specialties like pediatrics.
As news of the Ebola crisis spreads, it is easy to lose sight of significant medical needs that existed in West Africa before the outbreak. Traumatic injuries requiring surgery, such as those caused by traffic accidents are a major chronic unmet need. Not allocating funds toward the most advanced levels healthcare infrastructure in this region leaves many life-threatening needs unmet. Meeting these needs, alongside addressing the spread of life-threatening contagious diseases like Ebola, means investing in hospitals that can provide surgery and pediatrics in addition to vaccinations and pharmaceuticals.
Investing in high quality healthcare facilities offering the most advanced levels of medicine, such as the EMERGENCY Surgical Center in Sierra Leone, provide urgent surgical and emergency care as well as pediatrics and immunizations and supports the long term development of a healthy Sierra Leone.
4. Privatization of Healthcare that Profit from Sick and Dying People
The right to health is clearly described in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many people who are suffering from illness or life-threatening conditions are denied access to privatized health care because they cannot afford it. In many instances, privatized health care impoverishes those who need it most. In order to achieve the level of care and quality of life to which all humans are entitled, healthcare services must be high standard and free-of-charge, affording people the dignity and respect they deserve. This means building hospitals and clinics that provide the quality of care that we would want for our family members in their time of need.
Access is one of the major challenges faced by those who attempt to exercise their right to health. This can be overcome in part by building more fully equipped, free-of-charge hospitals and clinics as well as educating the local population to work in and run these facilities.
Proper medical treatment ends the moment healthcare is driven by profit rather than by human need. Pharmaceuticals are one important part of curbing the spread of infectious diseases. However, focusing on this aspect alone fails to address the complex solutions that are needed to respond to the current Ebola outbreak and others of its kind. The profit driven model to develop drugs continues to abandon people who are sick and dying.
Healthcare as a human right includes public health, as local community healthcare workers and other professionals are vital in addressing social and emotional issues with respect for local customs and culture which is needed to efficiently solve complex health issues.
5. Insufficient Education and Job Opportunities
Disease prevention includes awareness building in healthy communities. To solve the immediate Ebola crisis, there must be a focus on and continued support for complicated and time consuming collaborative efforts to control the spread of the disease. This includes contact tracing, humane quarantines, as well as providing necessary educational resources to those areas currently at risk.
However, the long-term health of the region depends upon education alongside stable well-paying jobs for those who dedicate their lives to health work. Local medical education at the highest level is vital to growing a much-needed community of regional professionals and encouraging them address the significant needs close to home.
In addition to medical education, programs that include local personnel training and employ local staff trained and empowered to stop this outbreak are better equipped for future situations that may occur. While healthcare is top-down system, the development of education and jobs must be up from the grassroots-up.
EMERGENCY provides education and training for local staff as our goal is to eventually be able to turn the hospital over to the local community with continued support from the Ministry of Health. For the last thirteen years, beginning during the war, our hospital has provided education and jobs for the people of Sierra Leone. Currently in Goderich there are over 200 Sierra Leoneans who work at our hospital and about 20 international staff who help provide education to their local peers. The Ebola outbreak makes it clear that there is still a major need to train as many Sierra Leonean surgeons, nurses, physician and related health workers as possible.
What can be done now?
Now is the time for the international community, working in collaboration with the people and organizations fighting Ebola as well as those providing other forms of healthcare in the region, to significantly increase long term investment towards building West Africa’s healthcare capacity.
EMERGENCY currently spends $10,000 a month to protect our hospital and staff from Ebola in Sierra Leone. Our funds primarily come from individual donors. However, other hospitals in the region lack the financial resources to take these precautions, leading to further spread of the disease.
Individual donations for the EMERGENCY Surgical Center in Sierra Leone help us to deliver high-quality healthcare to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. This year EMERGENCY has doubled the size of our Emergency Room in Sierra Leone, but a third and final new operating room is currently on hold due to lack of funds and the diversion of funds due to the Ebola crisis. With $80,000, we could open this additional operating room and provide life saving surgeries for an average cost of $1,000 each. This is a very reasonable price to help save a life or limb at the main trauma referral hospital for the entire nation. The new operating room would mean 400 more people each year for the next ten years would receive the life-saving surgical care they need.
We live in a global society and it’s our responsibility as caring members of a global community to support our neighbors’ access to basic healthcare. Everyone’s health depends on it, including yours.
To learn more about the high-standard free-of-charge surgical and pediatric care provided at our hospital in Sierra Leone, please click here. To help us protect our staff from Ebola so they can continue to treat people at the only hospital of its kind in Sierra Leone, please click here to donate now.
EMERGENCY USA – Life Support for Civilian Victims of War and Poverty firstname.lastname@example.org – @eric_talbert
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