Health partners unite to build stronger systems for health in Ebola-affected countries

GENEVA: Ministers of Health and Finance of Ebola-affected countries, international organisations and development partners assembled earlier this week in Geneva for a high-level meeting on how to strengthen systems of health in Ebola-affected countries and agreed on what needs to be done to rebuild and strengthen essential health services in these countries, said World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday.

“People in Ebola-affected countries are dying – not only from Ebola but also from other causes – because the majority of health facilities in these countries are either not functional or people are not using them for fear of contracting Ebola,” says Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General of Health Systems and Innovation, World Health Organisation (WHO). “A health system has to be able to both absorb the shock of an emergency like Ebola, and continue to provide regular health services such as immunisation and maternal and child care.” Participants of the meeting which took place on 10-11 December discussed the need to integrate all health services from clinical care to surveillance, health promotion, disease prevention and management, and palliative care.

Given the movement of people across borders of the Ebola-affected countries, it will also be important to coordinate national health plans across borders and align surveillance systems The key areas for improvement, according to WHO, are: significantly strengthening health workforce; enhancing community trust, engagement, and ownership; ensuring development of resilient sub-national health systems.

Participants determined that substantial external financing will be needed to address key areas for improvement. This should be coordinated under the leadership of the national government and in accordance with national plans.

The meeting agreed that all sectors of government should be involved – notably health, finance and education.

As next steps, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Margaret Chan, invited governments to convene meetings at the national level, with key partners, to develop country specific plans. These plans should clearly identify needs in terms of health workforce, infrastructure and materials, and how to further engage communities.