This blog post was written by Global Health Council (GHC) President & Executive Director Loyce Pace.
I had the privilege this month of traveling with members of U.S. Congress and other global health stakeholders to Sierra Leone as part of a CARE Learning Tour. Such trips are designed to expose policymakers, donors, the media, or other leaders to foreign assistance in action. Our visit was especially timely, considering Sierra Leone’s recent Ebola crisis and warnings about new infections in Democratic Republic of Congo. I arrived wondering what I would learn about Ebola’s aftermath and anxious to understand not only how a community or country responds to an outbreak but also how people recover.
The direct effect of Ebola in Sierra Leone and its neighbor, Liberia, has been well-reported in terms of lives lost. But what came into focus for learning tour delegates during our time on the ground is the impact Ebola had on those left behind. Now that the 2014 crisis has come and gone, clinics have had to replenish resources and bolster systems that were strained under the weight of emergency response. It was inspiring to witness firsthand the resilience of health workers – many of whom lost coworkers to the disease – and see how village clinics have been able to rebound, with the support of local and international actors. This means a young pregnant woman seeking maternal care can once again access important services that would save her life. Or that a child could be treated for malaria, diarrhea, and other conditions that contribute to premature death. We forget these basic needs are at risk in a crisis.
Beyond health, there are other important considerations following such a significant tragedy in Sierra Leone, a country with high poverty rates and a number of unfavorable human development indices. Learning tour delegates met Ebola survivors as well as widows or widowers and orphans to hear their profound accounts of fear, loss, and stigma and how they reestablished their lives after diagnosis. CARE’s flagship village savings and loan program has proven invaluable to these individuals, giving them the ability to restore capital and regain independence. Participants in local associations spoke of using funds to start businesses, pay school fees, and address family health care needs, bringing it all full circle.
So, as we think about global health security, it is critical that we view our investments and response as part of a continuum of global health and development, one that encompasses a range of priorities. After all, people are more than a disease. They have lives that require multiple resources and avenues of support. Only by acknowledging how their various needs are interconnected can we make lasting progress on the ecosystem of issues they face. I am grateful to CARE for helping me see beyond the Ebola outbreak to what the future holds for affected communities throughout Sierra Leone and beyond.