Between March 2014 and September 2015, more than 28,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia were infected with the Ebola virus. More than 11,300 died from it. And even those who survived still face a host of ongoing challenges, including continued physical symptoms, the possibility that the virus could lay dormant in some organs in the body, persistent psychological trauma, and social exclusion.
A legacy of Ebola that is less evident, however, is what it did to basic health services and health workers in the countries affected. The number of qualified health workers—and nurses in particular—who were killed and the number of health facilities that were forced to close or reallocate resources resulted in a dire shortage of both throughout the region. That means the people left behind struggled—and still struggle—to find care for other health issues, from malaria to malnutrition to childbirth to surgery to vaccination.
This issue of Alert focuses on the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak. Our main story concerns Liberia—the services MSF has provided to survivors and the steps MSF has taken to bolster the health system, especially around mother-and-child care. Much of this is localized in a hospital MSF has opened in Monrovia that focuses on pediatrics—a hospital at which I myself am hoping to work in early 2017.
This is a very meaningful project that fills a clear need in Monrovia right now. It’s unusual in that MSF was able to be part of every facet of the design process, which is rarely the case in emergency response, where you almost always work with what you have (and quickly). It is also evidence, I believe, of an effort to stay with an emergency, to seeing the ways in which an acute crisis can evolve into a more protracted health care crisis, even after the sense of urgency wanes among the broader international community.
Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find accounts of an ambulance service MSF runs in the Mathare slum of Nairobi, and the recollections of one of our staff workers upon her return to Bentiu, South Sudan. We also want to provide you with an update on the Forced From Home exhibition. Its first run through the northeast is now complete, and we were very gratified by the attendance and the response from the public and media outlets alike. The refugee/displacement issue is certainly not going away, and we will continue to make sure our voice—and the voices of the displaced themselves—are heard.
Thank you all for your support throughout this year. It has meant a great deal to me personally and to MSF as a whole.
John Lawrence, MD
President, MSF-USA Board of Directors