Liberia struggles with long Ebola 'to do' list

Liberia has weathered the worst ever outbreak of Ebola, which has killed more than 10,600 people.

FILE: Volunteer medics preparing to start their work on the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. Picture: The WHO official Facebook page.

LONDON - Treating trauma and the mental health issues of Ebola survivors is one of the many challenges facing "exhausted" Liberia, a senior health ministry official said.

Liberia has weathered the worst ever outbreak of Ebola, which has killed more than 10,600 people and infected 25,791, more successfully than its neighbors Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Liberia's last known victim of Ebola died on 27 March and the West African country is conducting a 42-day countdown to be officially declared free of the disease.

"Our country is exhausted. We still have huge needs," said Miatta Gbanya, deputy incident manager of Ebola response at the Liberian healthy ministry.

"The mental health of survivors, of health care workers need addressing. That's just one thing, there is still a lot to be done," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The links between Ebola and mental health disorders is little understood, despite reported complaints from some survivors of nightmares and flashbacks.

The Liberian government has been analysing its response to the Ebola epidemic and ways it could prevent similar outbreaks in the future, including investing some of the aid it has received into the healthcare system, Gbanya said.

"We criticised ourselves as a government, could we have invested in public health institutes or physical infrastructure?" Gbanya said on Thursday during a debate on the Ebola response at the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship.

"Among those who died, there were doctors, nurses, mental health clinicians, and professors at our nursing school," Gbanya told the audience. "That's a big loss. We didn't have the right isolation facilities in place."

In its latest weekly report on Wednesday, the World Health Organisation said a total of 37 confirmed cases had been reported in week to 12 April, up from 30 the previous week.

Of those, 28 were recorded in Guinea, nine in Sierra Leone and none in Liberia.

Raj Panjabi, chief executive of Last Mile Health charity, said globally 1 billion people did not have access to healthcare because they live in remote areas, like the two-year-old boy in Guinea identified as the source of the latest Ebola outbreak.

"It's not rocket science, (we need) a community health worker for every village. We need to change our bias against remote areas of this planet. That's what really bit us," said Panjabi, speaking from the audience.

He said in some of the Liberian districts his group was working in, the government had been spending just 76 US cents per person per year on healthcare.