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Report: 30 Countries Highly Vulnerable to Ebola-like Epidemics

Antho watches over her son Kaba, two, who is being treated for cerebral malaria at the Tshilundu Referral Hospital in Kasai Oriental Province, DRC. Kaba is now in a coma. Antho is nine months pregnant. This is her eighth pregnancy; she had two miscarriages and a daughter who died of malaria aged just eleven months because the clinic they took her to was closed when they arrived. This is not unusual: many local clinics in DRC are under equipped and under staffed. (Credit: Ivy Lahon / Save the Children)

A new report warns that nearly 30 countries are highly vulnerable to an Ebola-like epidemic. Save the Children says those countries have even weaker health care systems than Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had before the outbreak.

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The Save the Children report is entitled: Wake Up Call: Lessons from Ebola for the World’s Health Systems.

Brendan, the organization’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, said, “Well, what we hope is that from all of the horror, the pain and the suffering that’s come as a result of the Ebola crisis that some good will come of it, that we will learn some of the lessons. And so, as the name of the report says, we hope it will be a wake up call to the international community. What that means is that we need to get much better at not just responding to crises like Ebola, but getting out ahead of them.”

He said that countries with weak health care systems are prime areas for disease outbreaks.

“When you allow a country like Liberia with one health care worker per 4,000 people, which compares to the U.K. of one per 80, for example, it should be of no surprise that those countries are susceptible to outbreaks like this. But also they can incubate diseases like this that can also spread around the planet.”

The Save the Children report lists 28 countries as highly vulnerable to West Africa Ebola-size epidemics.

“Most of them are Africa, but they range from Haiti to Afghanistan, really right around the world, but obviously focused on those poorest countries. And what that says is that far from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea being the exception – far from them being strange individual cases -- in fact, there’s a whole set of countries, some with much bigger population sizes, that could be in danger of these sorts of diseases,” said Cox.

The threat is not just from Ebola. Cox said two new zoonotic diseases – diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans – emerge every year.

It’s estimated donors have committed $4.3 billion to fight Ebola in West Africa. Save the Children said that’s “nearly three times the annual cost of investing in building a universal health service in all three affected countries.”

“Unless we learn an old adage that prevention is better than cure, we’re going to be spending a hell of a lot of money that we didn’t need to. And most importantly, a lot more human suffering [than] there needs to be," he said. "So that’s why we’re saying, ‘learn that lesson. Invest in health systems. Build up a basic health care system in each of these countries.’ And that – not protective suits, not vaccines, not reforming the humanitarian system – that is the key lesson from this crisis.”

Cox said that universal health coverage would allow diseases to be identified, contained and treated early.

“People will be going for routine immunizations. People would be going to give birth. Mortality rates will come down,” he said.

Weak health care systems, he said, contribute to the deaths of 17,000 children each day from preventable causes, such as malaria and pneumonia.

The World Health Organization estimates it would cost a country nearly $90 per person per year to provide the minimum of health care.

The Save the Children report recommended countries increase their domestic tax revenue so they can “allocate at least 15 percent of their national budgets to health.” It also called on world leaders “to commit to end preventable maternal, new-born and child deaths by 2030.”

The organization said this and universal health coverage could be addressed in the Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals at the end of this year.