Learning From Ebola to Fight Malaria

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The remote health post in Koribondo has no electricity, the sole midwife rushes from one pregnant woman to another, and nurses use buckets to fetch water from a nearby well. On a rainy afternoon, dozens of mothers waited under a leaky roof to get themselves and their babies tested for malaria. Many had walked for hours on dirt paths to reach the clinic. The motorcycle ambulance, meanwhile, sat idle. There was no fuel for it.

A year after Sierra Leone was declared free of the Ebola virus, this small country in West Africa is struggling to rebuild its health system. Malaria remains the most common cause of illness and death, accounting for more than 40 percent of outpatient morbidity and 38 percent of deaths among children under five. Malaria alone killed twice as many people in 2014 than the Ebola outbreak. But Sierra Leone is hopeful the hard lessons learned while coping with the Ebola epidemic will help the country, with the support of partners, build new lifesaving strategies that will also stop any future outbreaks from becoming a global threat.

A mass distribution of antimalarial drugs, implemented during the peak of the Ebola outbreak with the support of UNICEF, WHO and the Global Fund, brought home some vital clues: the importance of more effectively training and deploying community health workers, as well as the role of social mobilization. The thousands of men and women who stepped in to fight malaria and Ebola, displaying extraordinary heroism and compassion, prove an inspiration as the country seeks a brighter future. “When communities are involved, it makes a big difference,” said Dr. Brima Kargbo, Sierra Leone’s Chief Medical Officer. “That was our main lesson.”

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Published 13 December 2016