Over the next two weeks Impact will post the top 12 global health moments of 2015 with commentary from experts. We want to hear your thoughts, too. So login and comment, share on social media and reflect on what has been a pretty interesting year for global health.
The global community was unprepared for the rapidly evolving West African Ebola outbreak that led to an estimated 28,000 cases and over 11,000 deaths. This hemorrhagic fever caught the world off-guard as it spiraled out of control due to porous national borders, severe shortages of health care workers, cultural beliefs and behaviors, and weak health systems. Although the outbreak primarily impacted Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, cases were also reported in other countries including Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, the United States, and Western Europe.
This catastrophic outbreak severely strained the resources of the local health systems. Medical workers were not adequately prepared with equipment, knowledge, or staffing, supplies were extremely limited, and, often times, communities did not trust the systems in place. In many cases, people simply stopped going to health facilities. Furthermore, the international community was slow to react with a coordinated response, allowing the situation to further deteriorate.
Even as the outbreak ebbed and flowed, 2015 was spent uncovering lessons learned to prevent a greater spread of Ebola, as well as other international epidemics.
“As some communities are battling the outbreak, others are rediscovering their lives and reviving their livelihoods,” says Dr. David Nabarro, former United Nations Special Advisor on SDGs and the Secretary-General’s Former Special Envoy on Ebola. “This recovery – and the strength it brings to affected communities – is a key part of people staying safe in the face of occasional flare-ups of disease in these final stages. Resilient communities are better able to respond to each and every case. They are more likely to participate in the response with full energy.”
“This recovery – and the strength it brings to affected communities – is a key part of people staying safe in the face of occasional flare-ups of disease in these final stages.
Strong national surveillance systems, including laboratory support, have been deemed essential to identify and stop threats. Adequate systems will require sizable investments into the health infrastructure in many countries. Multiple interventions are also critical, including treatment, contact tracing and education. Community engagement has been continually highlighted, as seen in the importance of early reporting of symptoms, using protective measures, and in the case of Ebola specifically, community cooperation for safe burials.
A coordinated approach from the international community with a flexible, rapid response capacity working alongside community leaders, including religious and tribal leaders, will help ensure more effective responses to future outbreaks.
“Epidemics always seem to come as a surprise, no matter what the warning signs are. Specific aspects of West Africa, such as cultural practices around death, the close proximity of rural forested areas to heavily populated urban cities, and the fragile nature of the national health systems in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone may have made the outbreak worse, but the inability of the international community to prepare and respond rapidly also contributed to the devastation,” Nabarro told the UN Dispatch. “Changing this culture of reaction, rather than prevention, is a key part of being ready for the next epidemic, no matter where it comes.”
To learn more about PSI’s work in preventing the spread of Ebola, click here.