On a recent trip to the United Nations International Ebola Recovery Conference in New York, Ebola Program Deputy Director Brennan Banks joined representatives from government and NGOs committed to helping the three most affected countries; Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The two-day conference offered a platform for these three countries, in addition to the sub-regional inter-governmental organization the Manu River Union, to present their recovery plans and solicit help where it is needed most on their journey to recovery. United Nation’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the conference with important instructions to those assembled, “take a deep breath and resolve to finish the job.”
There were many components to the recovery plans, but some common themes included building back stronger health systems, enhancing community engagement and resilience, and infrastructure investments. Rebuilding health systems is the priority of the recovery plans and represents a large portion of each budget for each affected country. The consensus is that the developments in health systems must incorporate community engagement and resilience alongside investments in water and energy infrastructure.
Resource building is critical in all of these countries with one panelist commenting, “there are more Liberian doctors living in the USA than in Liberia itself.” To say that building capacity to support health services in Ebola stricken countries is important is an understatement. Currently the doctor-to-population ratios are 1-100,000, 4-100,000 and 10-100,000 for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, respectively. To put that into perspective, in the United States there are 245 doctors to every 100,000 people.
A panel consisting of representatives from the World Bank, Red Cross, USAID, UK Inter-Agency Join Task Force, Ministers of Health for Guinea and Sierra Leone, Deputy Minister of Health for Liberia, and a representative from the French Ebola Task force agreed that global health security is only as strong as its weakest link, and the global community needs to capitalize on tools and build on data systems for health. Social mobilization and community engagement has changed attitudes in ways that health officials never imagined, so further integration and mainstreaming of community engagement and information sharing must be a large part of the recovery process.
While the number of new cases of Ebola has certainly declined since the initial outbreak, we cannot forget the 11,200 deaths from the disease—many that are still occurring because of critical gaps in health infrastructure and misinformation. As Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea continue to fight the disease, they need our continued support as well as our help to prevent another Ebola-like outbreak. Brennan remarked (His remarks begin at 2:13:30) to the other panelists, “Getting to zero requires continued support to the current response, while staying at zero requires significant investments in recovery.”