Making her presentation on key lessons learnt from the Ebola, Dr. Joan Shepherd said the unprecedented Ebola epidemic affected three countries in West Africa. Guinea in December 2013 and Liberia and Sierra Leone in May 2014 leaving 11, 310 dead and over 10, 000 survivors. In all, Dr. Shepherd said 28, 616 Ebola cases were recorded in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, adding that 8, 704 Sierra Leoneans were infected during the outbreak with a tragic death of 3, 589 people. Giving a break-down of the Sierra Leone situation, Dr. Shepherd said among the mortality cases, 221 were health workers: Nurses and Midwives 152, Midwives 3, Registered Nurses 2, Nurse Anaesthetists 2, Student Nurse 1, State Enrolled Community Health Nurses 76, Maternal and Child Health Aides 33, Nursing Aides 26 and Traditional Birth Attendants 9.
She described the health workers as frontline battle fighters against Ebola with a reflection of where are we currently with the departure of the MDGs and now the sustainable development goals.
Commenting on the high disease burden before the Ebola, she said despite the existence of evidence based simple interventions that saves lives, women and children in Africa continue to die unnecessary from preventable deaths, plagued with poverty, high levels of illiteracy, disease burden and weak health systems.
Despite the numerous efforts to improve on quality of services, the Guest Presenter told her audience that health still remains a challenge in Africa due to multi-faceted complex issues. Shortage of skilled mix with required competencies, infrastructure, policies, geographical boundaries, logistics and management issues were identified as challenges.
“The unprecedented Ebola outbreak in West Africa is believed to be deadliest, longest and worst in history as compared to countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda”, she told her audience. On the lessons learnt, she outlined key lessons which includes containment of the disease as a huge challenge, largely attributed to weak fragile under resourced health systems, lack of a National Emergency response strategy and Infection Prevention and Control structures and lack of protocols, policies, guidelines and standards on IPC, and inadequate triage structures. Challenges presented include: cultural beliefs and traditional practices on funeral and burial, complacency in health facilities, mistrust, disbelief and doubts, loss of confidence, poor health infrastructures leading to poor quality of services, poor service readiness among others were highlighted.
Dilating on the human resource, she said the country was ill-prepared with inadequate knowledge and management of the disease, untrained staff, lack of specialists in Infectious Diseases, shortage of nurses and midwives, and problems of logistics such as personal protective equipment insufficient ambulances and laboratories. She described the situation as an eye-opener as health workers also succumbed to the disease. She further added that the affected countries are now better positioned to respond to emerging diseases as quite a lot of progress has been made in the area of setting up emergency response teams, curricula reviews, training of health workers on IPC and putting in place appropriate IPC structures among others. Experiences from the Ebola outbreak she believed can serve as a learning point for other countries and a model to replicate due to the successful defeat of the Ebola disease in 2015.
Other topics highlighted by Dr. Shepherd include the effect of the Ebola crisis on nursing and midwifery, caring for the caregivers, community engagement through awareness raising and sensitization campaigns on EVD, post Ebola activities for nursing and midwifery, and “Winning together” through building Responsive, Resilient health system with shared vision and goals. She commended the commitment, support and efforts of all those who worked together in reaching Zero Ebola status.