Ebola outbreak: Liberia's health care system 'collapsing' amid epidemic

The number of trained doctors and nurses, already in critical short supply after years of civil war, is shrinking as medical workers get infected

The health care system in Liberia is collapsing as hospitals shut down and medical workers flee from the Ebola epidemic, Liberia's foreign minister has said.

Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan said diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea were going untreated because frightened Liberians were shunning medical centres.

He warned deaths resulting from normally treatable conditions could outstrip those from the Ebola virus by three or four times.

“People are dying from common diseases because the health care system is collapsing,” Mr Ngafuan said in an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It is going to have a long-term impact, even after this crisis is behind us.”

But he said his biggest immediate concern was the spreading epidemic.

“We are hearing it is going to get worse before it gets better. We do not know how much worse that will be. My main worry is the fear of how many people will die. Right now it is out of control and jumps from place to place,” Mr Ngafuan said.

The number of trained doctors and nurses, already in critical short supply after years of civil war, is shrinking as medical workers get infected, quarantined or are afraid to report to work. The country entered the epidemic with only about 50 doctors for 4 million people, he said.

“What is happening is the entire health sector is being devastated by the crisis. It is not only a killer, but it kills those who care for them, and a good number of them are dying,” Mr Ngafuan said.

Video: Explaining Ebola

Overwhelmed, the three West African countries most affected by the Ebola virus - Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone - stressed at a meeting on Monday with top-level US government officials, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Bank that a global response is critical, Mr Ngafuan said.

Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister Samura Kamara, in a separate interview in Washington, gave a similar message.

“This is a disease that is beyond the capacity of the three national governments. We need greater international awareness and support and it should be considered a global health crisis that needs a global response,” he said.

Reuters

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