Via Quartz, an op-ed by Dr. Matshisidiso Rebecca Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa: The unsung heroes of the Ebola fight need our help. Excerpt:
When Sierra Leone’s first Ebola patient came through the door of the Kenema Government Hospital in Freetown, Issa French was there to admit her. Since that day, Issa has tended to more than 500 people, all victims of the epidemic that engulfed his country. Ebola killed many of his patients, as well as dozens of his colleagues.
Like most of his fellow nurses, Issa is essentially a volunteer, one who is 20 to 30 times more likely to become infected than any of his patients. Although he has escaped infection with Ebola, he suffers in other ways, most clearly in the social isolation that cuts his family off from any interaction with their fearful neighbors.
Ironically, Kenema Government Hospital, where he works, is the one place in West Africa that should have been prepared for an Ebola outbreak. The small facility held an internationally funded laboratory, with the means to diagnose Lassa Fever and other viral hemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola.
But all eight lab technicians contracted the disease, probably from exposure to the blood of patients they were tasked with analyzing. Mohamed SK Sesay, the sole survivor, returned home to his village to explain the disease to a community that had rejected efforts to impose control measures. The trust Mohamed inspired would eventually save lives and lead the village to be declared free of infection.
Issa and Mohamed have played heroic roles during the terrifying epidemic, but their stories reveal a dangerous and often-overlooked weakness in the fragile health care systems that allowed the Ebola epidemic to spiral out of control.
Health care workers in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as in many other parts of Africa, work under extremely challenging circumstances given the huge disease burden and lack of adequate staff, along with other limited opportunities for professional development.
The World Health Organization reports that the most basic level of health care requires at least 23 doctors, nurses, and midwives for every 10,000 people. Globally, the average is approximately 44 health workers per 10,000.
In contrast, Sierra Leone reported fewer than two health care workers—including volunteers—per 10,000 people. Liberia and Guinea are not much better off.