Ebola Crisis highlights problem of chronic shortages of health care staff in West Africa

The recent Ebola outbreak experienced across different West African countries affected the lives of thousands of people, having a profound impact on the social and human structure of entire communities. In addition to better understanding the deadly effects of Ebola’s highly contagious virus, this most recent crisis proved to be an opportunity for local governments and the international community to reflect on and address ongoing shortages of trained health care staff in the region.

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Healthcare workers in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Image: Michael Duff/Associated Press. Source: Mashable UK

 

In an interview to the New York Times in October 2014, Dr Daniel Bausch, an infectious disease expert from Tulane University who has treated Ebola patients in Guinea and Sierra Leone, stated that the biggest need was for higher numbers of skilled staff – “(lack of staff is the) biggest impediment to this outbreak”, he said. “We need people to do the work.”

Although media attention appears to have shifted to other global and regional stories, at the beginning of 2015 the outbreak was far from over. In addition, the aftermath of this severe health crisis is expected to continue for many years to come: a great number of children became orphan and the experience of abrupt loss has left profound psychological and emotional scars in many; the death of bread winners has plummeted entire families into further poverty; and the stigma around the disease itself has driven many health workers away from those communities in most need.

Despite the above, over the past 12 months, the commitment and perseverance of a short yet precious number of healthcare workers saved lives across the African continent. Their resilience and determination should be acknowledged and celebrated, and above all be used as an example of the impact training and professional empowerment has in the management of health problems across most deprived world regions. It is hoped that the issue of severe shortages of staff is not forgotten or pushed to the bottom end of national agendas as the interest in the management of this crisis fades.