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Small Centers Hope to Break Ebola Transmissions

Health workers accompany a nine-year-old who contracted the Ebola virus to a Monrovia treatment center on Sept. 30, 2014.
Health workers accompany a nine-year-old who contracted the Ebola virus to a Monrovia treatment center on Sept. 30, 2014.

The number of Ebola cases is dropping in some towns and cities in three West African countries where large Ebola Treatment Centers are now serving large numbers of patients.

However, the virus’s chain of transmission continues to spread into new and sometimes remote regions of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. So health workers are expanding their Ebola operations with a new network of smaller centers in remote parts of each country.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said the new facilities serve several purposes. “Health centers are being used as holding centers where suspect cases would come and stay for a couple of days while their lab results, their blood samples are processed."

“And during that time, the idea is to provide basic support care,” he said. The centers also serve as a quarantine centers to reduce possible spread of the virus. He said the strategy is to “keep them out of the community during the time until they get the results back.”

Health workers at the centers monitor those suspected of being exposed to Ebola. If necessary, they administer oral rehydration therapy to maintain the patients’ immune systems.

Patients who test positive are then taken by ambulance for higher levels of care at the larger Ebola Treatment Centers. Those who test negative for the virus can go home.

How to detect the path of the virus

Jasarevic said these community centers help find the newest cases so health officials can predict where and how Ebola may spread. “The problem we are having is to get closer to where the virus really is and to basically now get to the point where we will go after the virus instead of really being far behind.”

These small local Ebola centers are being embraced by communities that once feared the virus and the health workers that came to investigate. “We know that more of these community centers are being built as we speak,” he said.

“Communities are now asking to have these holding centers and there is a move of community participation. This is really the key and we see this especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone lately.”

Ebola workers rebuild devastated rural health systems

“The idea is basically how to integrate all of these now Ebola-related services into the health systems. How to basically make health systems resilient, more resilient, because if Ebola got to the point where it got, it is because these health systems were not ready to respond in time.

“A strong health system would be able – as it was the case in neighboring countries in Senegal, in Nigeria and in Mali. All of these countries had that. The three countries – Liberia Guinea and Sierra Leone - were not able to do that because of weak health systems.

Now, we need to look in the future to make sure that these health systems become stronger and that we need to get the trust of people so that if you have malaria or you are a pregnant woman, you will trust your health system and you will go there instead of being afraid.”

Jasarevic says the holding centers will rebuild community trust in local medicine and public health.

West African health ministers met with WHO officials and others in Geneva two weeks ago. They discussed how to rebuild health systems once the Ebola crisis subsides. Jasarevic says the community centers are just the beginning of that reconstruction process.