Never Again: Building resilient health systems and learning from the Ebola crisis | Ebola Virus Disease

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It took the threat of a global health crisis to illustrate the failings of Africa’s health systems. Resilient health systems, free at the point of use, are evidently a global public good. They are essential for the provision of universal health coverage and for a prompt response to outbreaks of disease. Resilient health systems require long-term investment in the six key elements that are required for a resilient system: an adequate number of trained health workers
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  203 OXFAM BRIEFING PAPER APRIL 2015 Elizabeth Cuffy, Fundaye Community, New Kru Town, Liberia. Credit: Renata Rendón/Oxfam NEVER AGAIN Building resilient health systems and learning from the Ebola crisis It took the threat of a global health crisis to illustrate the failings of Africa’s health systems. Resilient health systems, free at the point of use, are evidently a global public good. They are essential for the provision of universal health coverage and for a prompt response to outbreaks of disease. Resilient health systems require long-term investment in the six key elements that are required for a resilient system: an adequate number of trained health workers; available medicines; robust health information systems, including surveillance; appropriate infrastructure; sufficient public financing and a strong public sector to deliver equitable, quality services. Global investment in research and development for medical products is also critical. ‘When Ebola came, one woman was having her baby at home. It died because there was nowhere to go, no hospital. We need a hospital here. We need a health system.’ www.oxfam.org   SUMMARY It is just over a year since the Ebola virus took hold in West Africa, spreading fear across the region and beyond. As of April 2015, the disease had claimed the lives of more than 10,500 people, mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and has devastated communities at both an economic and a psychosocial level. 1  The Ebola outbreak has been an exceptionally challenging ‘stress test’ of the ability of health systems in the affected countries to respond to such an emergency, and also a severe test for the international community. How did health systems perform in this critical test? What has been learned from the Ebola crisis to ensure that future health systems have the resilience to safeguard the health needs of all populations faced with major threats to public health? Long before the crisis, access to health services and safe drinking water and sanitation in West Africa were inadequate. There were marked inequalities between regions, socioeconomic groups and genders. 3  The cost to individuals of paying for health services led to increased poverty and greater levels of inequality. Many health centres, if they existed at all, were unable to safely provide the services needed, as they lacked staff, medicines and health information. This situation is reflected in the lack of capacity in these countries to manage childhood infections and deliver safe births. When Ebola struck, the affected countries had little capacity for surveillance, laboratory testing, contact tracing or infection control. Fear, stigma and a lack of trust in health facilities delayed effective responses. 5  Health systems were unable to handle the emergency, let alone continue to run existing services. Vaccination programmes, for example, have been suspended, making a million children in the worst affected countries vulnerable to measles. 6  Affected countries were unable to contain Ebola within their borders. Chronic low public expenditure on health has diminished the availability, affordability and quality of health services, leading to both a lack of facilities and medicines and the introduction of user fees. As a result, people living in poverty are forced to seek care elsewhere, often from unqualified private providers. People face a choice between suffering ill health and bearing the cost burden of paying for poor-quality healthcare. Such choices drive people further into impoverishment and exacerbate inequality. It is therefore clear that re-prioritizing investment in healthcare is for a global public good, protecting people’s health and preventing the spread of diseases. This requires long-term commitment from national governments and international donors to support resilient health systems Sierra Leone has the highest under-five mortality rate in the world: one in three children dies, mainly from malaria, diarrhoea or pneumonia.  2  Before the Ebola outbreak, out-of-pocket payments reached 35 percent of total health expenditure in Liberia, almost 65 percent in Guinea and 76 percent in Sierra Leone.  4   2  and ensure universal coverage of health services that are free at the point of use and have the ability to respond to outbreaks of disease. The Ebola crisis has shown that global action to protect health is essential, since infections do not respect borders. The Ebola crisis has revealed several critical issues that should be integrated into national planning. For example, community engagement in the protection and promotion of health has been vital in controlling the outbreak. Community health workers (CHWs) and volunteers have played a key role in controlling the spread of infection by disseminating accurate information, undertaking surveillance and contact tracing and promoting hygiene practices and safe burials. Respondents to Oxfam research in the Montserrado district in Liberia, for example, stressed the importance of continued social mobilization and of disseminating hygiene information. 7   Six foundations for resilient health systems Resilient systems require six essential elements: ã  An adequate number of trained health workers, including non-clinical staff and CHWs; ã  Available medical supplies, including medicines, diagnostics and vaccines; ã  Robust health information systems (HIS), including surveillance; ã  An adequate number of well-equipped health facilities (infrastructure), including access to clean water and sanitation; ã  Adequate financing; ã  A strong public sector to deliver equitable, quality service.  An adequate number of trained health workers:   Based on the WHO standard of a minimum of 2.3 doctors, nurses and midwives per 1,000 people, Oxfam has calculated the health workforce gaps in the worst affected countries and the costs of training the missing clinical staff and paying their salaries over 10 and 20 years (see Annex 1). Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and neighbouring Guinea-Bissau require $420m to train the 9,020 medical doctors and 37,059 nurses and midwives needed to fill the gaps in their workforce. Once they are trained, a total of $297m annually would be needed to pay their salaries for 10 years. The health workers gap is not unique to these countries. Africa has the highest disease burden in the world, but has only 3 percent of the global health workforce. 8   Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau require $420m to train 9,020 medical doctors and 37,059 nurses and midwives. Once they were trained, a total of $297m annually would be needed to pay their salaries for 10 years. 3  Figure 1: Estimated gap in numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau Note: Estimates by Oxfam, based on the WHO minimum standard of 2.3 doctors, nurses and midwives per 1,000 persons. See Annex 1 for calculations.  Access to sufficient medical supplies, including medicines, diagnostics and vaccines:  The Ebola crisis highlighted the failure of the global research and development (R&D) system. The system depends on monopolies of intellectual property (IP), and therefore commercial interest, to incentivize pharmaceutical companies to conduct research into new products. Clearly there is no commercial interest in R&D for Ebola. In the meantime, these IP monopolies enable companies to dictate high prices for new products. The Ebola crisis illustrates the need to change this system so that public health needs dictate the global research agenda and prices of new products are affordable. The current vaccines and medicines being tested for Ebola have been developed using public financing, but it is unclear how the pharmaceutical companies will set the prices of these potential products. Robust HIS:   Weak surveillance capacity, coupled with community fear and lack of trust in health services, made it difficult to obtain accurate data during the Ebola crisis. Data collection depends on trained and motivated health workers and on community engagement in the process. Effective surveillance must be an integral part of information systems. Robust HIS are essential for decision making on policies and resource allocation  An adequate number of well-equipped health facilities (infrastructure):  Statistics on hospital bed ratios illustrate the low coverage of health infrastructure in the Ebola-affected countries. There are 0.8 hospital beds per 10,000 people in Liberia and 0.3 in Guinea. This is compared with an average of 50 beds per 10,000 people in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. 10  Building resilient health systems requires scaling up the number of well-equipped health posts and district hospitals to provide appropriate coverage of community health needs. Clean water, sanitation and hygiene promotion must be explicitly included within infrastructure plans.      1 ,   7   5   4    2 ,   5   5   1    4 ,   0   6   3    6   5   2    9 ,   0   2   0    5 ,   8   8   9    9 ,   5   9   3    1   9 ,   6   1   1    1 ,   9   6   6    3   7 ,   0   5   9  - 5,000 10,000 15,000 20,000 25,000 30,000 35,000 40,000 Liberia SL Guinea GB total Doctors gap Nurse/midwife gap There are 0.8 hospital beds per 10,000 people in Liberia and 0.3 in Guinea. This is compared with an average of 50 beds per 10,000 people in OECD countries.  9   4
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