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AIDS, TB Patients Not Forgotten During Liberia's Ebola Crisis

  • Jennifer Lazuta

A local Liberian artist paints a mural forming part of the country's fight against the deadly Ebola virus by education in the city of Monrovia, Sept. 23, 2014.

A local Liberian artist paints a mural forming part of the country's fight against the deadly Ebola virus by education in the city of Monrovia, Sept. 23, 2014.

With health clinics closed and people afraid to come in for treatment, Liberia's national AIDS commission says they are now going door-to-door to get people to come take their antiretroviral medications. All eyes are on Ebola, but experts say there are other deadly diseases being overlooked in the crisis.

An estimated 45 percent of health care facilities in Liberia’s Montserrado County, home to the capital, Monrovia, have been shut down since the Ebola outbreak first hit the country in March.

Many people are afraid to seek out treatment for fear of catching Ebola, those who come are often turned away, as the few open clinics are overcrowded and understaffed.

This has had a strong impact on the country’s HIV-positive population.

“Currently we have ... 9,958 patients [in Montserrado County] that are enrolled in care treatment and support services," explained Sonpon Blamo Sieh, the head of programs at Liberia’s National AIDS Control Program, known as the NACP.

"Some of the patients, the HIV- and TB-positive, are unable to come to the facilities for fear of contracting Ebola," Sieh added. "So what that does is obstruct the quality of care, and also in terms of treatment interruption, which may lead to treatment failure, and all of that has to do with a situation of [drug] resistance."

The World Health Organization said more than 1,500 Liberians have died of Ebola. But health care workers said other deadly diseases, such as malaria and childhood diarrhea must not be forgotten.

WHO said there were more than 1.4 million cases of malaria in Liberia in 2012. An estimated 640 out of every 100,000 women in Liberia die from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth each year.

According to experts, if adequate health care services were not resumed soon, these numbers were likely to rise.

To help HIV/AIDS patients, Sieh said special mobile treatment facilities have been created, where patients can refill their prescriptions and receive uninterrupted health care services.

Volunteers have been going door-to-door in Montserrado County to inform patients about these facilities, and to refer them for treatment.

“If we do not go out to them then we will be having a disaster. And that is just that ... We came from very low [treatment] coverage in 2007. We made some gains and now 70 percent of our patients who need treatment have access to treatment. But if we do not step up those gains that will be a bigger problem, if those patients do stop,” Sieh said, adding that the next step would be to extend the outreach programs to the rest of the country.

(Prince Collins contributed to this report from Monrovia.)

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