The West Africa Ebola epidemic has killed 5,160 people, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported today. However, what isn’t reported is the number of people who have died of preventable and treatable conditions, like pneumonia, because the entire health system has been severely disrupted – health facilities are not operating, patients are afraid, health care workers are afraid, and medicine, supplies, and funding is low or unavailable.
These ‘silent killers’ are one reason why on this World Pneumonia Day, we’re reminded by Dr. Raj Panjabi, CEO of Last Mile Health in Liberia, that “the goal has to be to not just contain Ebola,” but also to think about maintaining and strengthening health systems.
Pneumonia is the number one reason children around the world don’t live to celebrate their fifth birthday. It kills more children under five than HIV/AIDs, malaria, and measles combined – nearly one million deaths a year. And yet, pneumonia is very treatable with simple antibiotics, if diagnosed early.
Just $4 can provide one course of antibiotics for child with pneumonia. Donate here.
The Critical Role of Frontline Health Workers
Since 2011, Direct Relief has been supporting Last Mile Health to strengthen their comprehensive primary care and frontline health outreach services in remote southeastern Liberia, including their targeted efforts to reduce the incidence of childhood pneumonia and most recently their role in the treatment and prevention of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
In addition to providing Last Mile Health with critical medicines and medical supplies, Direct Relief also supports their efforts to train and support community health workers with the goal to have 100 percent coverage in Grand Gedeh and River Cess counties where their team works.
Because health workers provide proactive access to care, they are able to conduct early evaluations and interventions to make referrals and reduce need for more advanced treatment when the condition worsens. They treat people in hard-to-reach places and are trusted members of their communities.
In fact, UNICEF attributes great success in the fight against childhood pneumonia to the training of community health workers, who give sick children simple antibiotics in child-friendly chewable tablets as part of an integrated case management program.
These same community health workers helping fight childhood pneumonia are now also on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak.
Ebola Threatens Health Workers & Primary Care
Last Mile Health reported that in April when the first suspected case of Ebola presented in Grand Gedeh County, LMH limited all non-essential field activities in an effort to provide urgent care to patients and support the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare’s response to the outbreak.
“The Ebola outbreak posed a very unexpected threat to our ability to deliver life-saving care to children,” LMH staff reported.
Because caregivers and health professionals are the most at risk of contracting Ebola, LMH acted quickly to ensure that its staff were safe, informed, and prepared. They provided frontline health workers with personal protective equipment so they could continue to provide community-based treatment for other illnesses, including pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea.
Direct Relief has increased support to Last Mile Health in wake of the Ebola outbreak, providing more than 10 tons of medical supplies for health workers to continue essential services.
Aid is Working, You Can Join the Effort
The work of partners like Last Mile Health and others around the world is chipping away at the problem of childhood pneumonia. Deaths from the disease have declined by 44 percent since 2000, reports UNICEF.
Last year, for the first time in Liberia’s history, the Konobo region where Last Mile Health works achieved 100 percent health care coverage because health care workers were accessible in all villages. With the help of this milestone, within six months of implementing the childhood pneumonia project, the number of children receiving treatment per month increased by 91 percent in Konobo District.
Through the despair of Ebola, Dr. Panjabi says Ebola’s legacy can be a thriving community health system. If achieved, this is good news not only for eradicating Ebola, but for building resilience against other diseases and continuing to battle existing ones.
Direct Relief supported these ongoing efforts before the Ebola outbreak and will continue to do so afterward. You can join the mission to improve the health and lives of people in need. Donate here.