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Sierra Leone’s health system was ‘too weak’ to cope with Ebola

A report published by the international development think tank the Overseas Development Institute says the Ebola outbreak exposed weaknesses in Sierra Leone's health system

The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone not only exposed major weaknesses in the country’s health system but revealed ‘blind spots’ in international aid programming, according to a think tank report published today.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says prior to the Ebola outbreak Sierra Leone had a weak health system that lacked citizen trust, as well as basic supplies like medicines, ambulances and rubber gloves. This was despite £250 million ($360 million) of international aid being channelled into building and strengthening Sierra Leone’s health system since 2002, says the report.

Building the capacity of health systems has been a key focus of donor support but it had multiple ‘blind spots’, resulting in a system ill-prepared to deal with the Ebola outbreak due to the shortage of trained medical staff. It says an additional 21,000 medical staff had to be recruited to respond to the outbreak.

The report, titled: After Ebola: Why and how capacity support to Sierra Leone’s health sector needs to change, also says the national government had failed to commit sufficient funds to its health sector or put in place effective systems for local, district and national governments to work together.

Around 11,000 people have died from Ebola over the past year, including nearly 4,000 in Sierra Leone.

National immunisation days have been cancelled because of the outbreak, leaving thousands of children exposed to potential outbreaks of polio and measles. Women have been deterred from attending antenatal visits or giving birth in health centres for fear of getting Ebola, says the report.

Report author Lisa Denney said: ‘Aid has played an important role in development progress in Sierra Leone over the last 13 years, with some important health advancements. But our research over the last two years has found that gaps in Sierra Leone’s health system were longstanding in nature, and must be addressed by both the government and international donors, otherwise the country will be at the mercy of the next health crisis.’

Read the full report here

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