Via The Washington Post: Ebola takes big toll on already poor health care. Excerpt:
When the dreaded Ebola virus began infecting people in the Sierra Leone town of Kenema, Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan and his team were on the front lines. After stepping out of his protective suit following hours on a sweltering ward, he would jump on the phone to coordinate with the Ministry of Health, to deal with personnel issues and tend to hospital business.
He was jovial but forceful. When he walked into a room everyone looked to him for direction and he gave it decisively, said Daniel Bausch, an American doctor who worked with Khan.
But then Khan tested positive for Ebola at the end of July and died soon after. He is one of at least two leading doctors in Sierra Leone who have died in the outbreak, which has also hit Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal. The World Health Organization says it has sickened a higher proportion of medical staff than any other on record, with 240 contracting Ebola and more than half of them dying.
The toll on health workers was felt immediately by grieving and frightened colleagues and by patients who had fewer people to attend to them, and it will likely set back health care systems — poorly equipped amid rampant poverty to begin with — for years to come.
“These are people who were the backbone” of efforts to improve struggling health systems, said Bausch, a professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone “are trying to dig themselves out of years of stalled or retrograde development and making some progress. This is setting them back immeasurably.”
Khan had been an expert in Lassa, which like Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever, meaning he brought tremendous expertise to the current outbreak. He was also key to improving Sierra Leone’s health system in general. The region’s weak health system infrastructure, along with poverty, helped fuel Ebola’s spread.
Modupeh Cole, a top physician at Connaught Hospital in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, also died of Ebola. He was one of only three senior doctors who supervised junior doctors at the hospital, said Dr. Oliver Johnson, a British doctor who has worked there for two years as part of the King’s Partnership Sierra Leone. Cole’s death will hobble the hospital and might render it unable to offer post-graduate specialist training, Johnson said.
The loss of senior doctors makes a huge impact because there are so few of them. Liberia has only one doctor for every 100,000 people, while Sierra Leone has two, according to World Health Organization statistics. In comparison, the U.S. has 245 doctors for every 100,000 people.