Each day, it seems, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of troubling updates from Sierra Leone. The number of Ebola cases grows rapidly. Rumors of nonsense cures spread like wildfire. Hospitals are overwhelmed, health workers terrified.
My friends and family in the US, who usually hear little or no news out of West Africa, now email me articles from the New York Times, or call to discuss a story from CNN.
Many of them find the epidemic terrifying.
I find it heartbreaking.
In these headlines, I see the suffering of a country that has been my second home since 2006—a country that has faced a seemingly endless onslaught of trouble and trauma, from the brutal violence and deprivations of a civil war in the 1990s, to persistent poverty and some of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. Positive change, including a decade of peace and emerging economic growth, has been hard-won.
In the Ebola statistics, I see the faces of friends and colleagues I have known for years—including many nurses and doctors who risked their lives to care for others. In one hard-hit district hospital, the virus has killed an estimated ten percent of the entire medical staff.
In the stories of hospitals struggling to cope, I see the latest indication of a health system that lacks the resources, trained personnel, and effective management systems required to save lives – whether from Ebola or from preventable and treatable conditions like malaria, diarrhea, and complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. In the months in which Ebola has caused at least 733 infections and 273 deaths in Sierra Leone, approximately 5,000 women and children have died of causes unrelated to the epidemic.
The seeds of the Ebola crisis lie in the weakness of Sierra Leone’s health system, and tragically, Ebola will likely exacerbate these problems, by ravaging the health workforce and further eroding public trust. Preventing future epidemics, and addressing the ongoing and largely invisible causes that take the lives of women and children every day, requires a long-term commitment to build the capacity of health systems in Sierra Leone and in other poor countries. This is work the Welbodi Partnership has been doing since 2008, but there is—and will be—a need for much more support to help the region recover from these tragic events.
The news about Ebola is heartbreaking, but not surprising. This epidemic will pass, but its devastation will persist. Let us not forget this vibrant but long-suffering region once the foreign press returns home.
If you would like to help, please consider supporting the Welbodi Partnership, a UK charity that has worked since 2008 to improve maternal and child health in Sierra Leone. Welbodi helped support the government's initial response to Ebola, and will be there for the long term to help the government and the people of Sierra Leone rebuild and recover from these tragic events.
Fuente imagen: emol.com
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