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“This is our war”: Ebola and the state of healthcare in West Africa

Imagine you were critically ill and there was no clinic available to see a doctor, no hospital to secure immediate care, and no pharmacy to access vital medicine.

This is the issue facing families and children in West Africa as they struggle with the Ebola crisis. The outbreak of the deadly disease has taken over 10,000 lives and crumbled the already fragile healthcare systems of the most affected countries (Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia).

Click to enlarge the infographic

Infographic displaying limited amount of doctors available in West Africa, compared to Canada.“The Ebola outbreak highlights the critical need for investment in health workers and health systems,” said James Campell, Director of Health Workforce at the World Health Organization (WHO) and Executive Director of the Global Health Workforce Alliance.

Kamanda, a 17-year-old youth advocate for Plan International, has witnessed firsthand the crisis’ implications on Sierra Leone’s medical system. In addition to seeing Ebola victims get “hardly any medical attention and little or no food,” he noted that many, like his father, are unable to find care for common – though potentially deadly – health issues.

“My dad is sick – he has appendicitis – and we have no way of helping him,” he said, adding that others, such as pregnant women, avoid attending hospitals altogether, fearing contamination. “It’s a very frightening situation.”

An unfair fight
Dr. J. Soka Moses

Dr. J. Soka Moses Credit: Plan / Neil Brandvold

Dr. J. Soka Moses is the Medical Director of an Ebola Treatment Unit in Liberia, which is frequently flooded beyond capacity. “We cannot turn down patients because that would be like sending them to infect their healthy relatives back at home,” he said. When the unit runs out of beds, his staff place patients on the floor.

In addition to the inherent dangers of their work, health workers often must leave their families, and are stigmatized by community members who fear contraction. Many even work with little to no pay, sleep or food.

“Usually, aid workers are seen as the heroes in such crisis situations,” explained Dr. Unni Krishnan, head of Disaster Response and Preparedness for Plan International. “However, in the case of Ebola, the local health workers are the true lifesavers.”

“This is our war,” said Fatumata, 28, a nurse is Sierra Leone. “There is no way to escape it. We just have to fight it so that we can eradicate Ebola.”

Leveling the field

“I have seen Plan volunteers in my community in Vancouver, but I never knew what Plan was doing,” Dr. Paul Gully, a WHO Consultant for the ECCU. “Now with your work here, I will tell people back in Canada the wonderful impact of Plan in these communities.”

In partnership with governments and other organizations, Plan is setting up Ebola Community Care Units (ECCUs) that provide basic care for those suspected of infection, perform testing, and transport diagnosed patients to treatment units.

According to Plan Sierra Leone Country Director Casely Coleman, with the opening of the first ECCU, Plan has:

  • Set-up functioning water supplies
  • Distributed food to patients and staff
  • Helped ensure payment of health workers
  • Provided staff accommodations
  • Delivered medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment, basic drugs, beds and sanitation materials.
A nurse at an ECCU.

A nurse at an ECCU.

The war on Ebola is a difficult one: it carries high stakes and demands costly sacrifices for those who take it on, every day. And yet, dedicated individuals like Joya, 32 – a nurse from Sierra Leone – persevere.

“We are doing it because we are trained to,” she said. “We have to serve humanity.”

Supporting those at the frontlines

You can give a Gift of Hope to empower children, families, and health workers with the information and resources they need to protect themselves, and others.

Together we can win this battle.

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