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World Bank must lead efforts to raise $1.7 billion to improve Ebola-hit countries’ health care

The World Bank and international donors must find $1.7 billion to improve dangerously inadequate health systems in Ebola-affected countries and help prevent such a deadly epidemic ever happening again said Oxfam today on the eve of Ebola talks at the Bank’s annual spring meetings in Washington DC.

The money is the minimum needed to make health care freely available to all in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and neighbouring Guinea-Bissau and would go towards paying for well-equipped facilities, sufficient trained staff and medical supplies and robust health information systems that build upon the stronger community networks now in place. Guinea-Bissau has not yet had any Ebola cases but is particularly at risk from porous borders and poor resources.

The international agency says governments and donors must reverse years of neglect with a ten-year investment plan in free universal health care to ensure the countries are able to cope with future outbreaks. A long-term view is essential to do the job. Oxfam estimates it would cost $420 million to train the 9,020 doctors and 37,059 nurses and midwives required to meet the World Health Organisation’s minimum standards of care and $297million annually to pay their salaries.

Oxfam International’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said. “Communities pulling together has been vital to cutting Ebola infection rates. After a slow start, Oxfam recognised that and targeted its approach accordingly. But in order to be effective these networks need to work within a strong national healthcare service that is freely available to all people.

“This is where the major donors must now step in,” she said. “Solid commitments are desperately needed now to address public health failures that have contributed to more than 10,000 deaths and to prevent another deadly epidemic.”

Winning communities’ support has been critical in overcoming people’s misunderstanding and fear about the disease. Oxfam trained community volunteers to make house visits with information about symptom awareness, good hygiene and changing risky behaviour.

“One positive outcome of Ebola has been the rise of stronger new community networks that offer greater space for local people to be involved in decision-making,” Byanyima added. “But so far they have been excluded from the recovery planning. This must change. Donors should insist that community engagement is put at the heart of recovery plans. Community networks are also vital in helping to hold governments to account that the money is being well-spent.”

The aid agency is calling for the international community to support the countries to rebuild stronger public services, particularly in health and sanitation, and to help people in Ebola-affected countries to recover from immediate psychological, social and economic impacts.

In Sierra Leone Ebola has created around 12,000 orphans and 180,000 people have lost their jobs. In Liberia half of all heads of household are out of work and 73% of people in three counties told Oxfam researchers in December 2014 that their incomes have plummeted.

Oxfam has so far reached 1.3million people in West Africa working with communities to help prevent infection, supporting clinics, schools and people in quarantine with water and sanitation and helping communities to be better prepared for potential outbreaks.

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