Bill Clinton Stresses Need for Healthcare Infrastructure

This week, President Bill Clinton stressed the need for greater investment in healthcare infrastructure throughout the developing world following the Ebola outbreak.

It will be an uphill battle, requiring the combined effort of governments and healthcare organizations.

According to the United Nations Press Centre, Mr. Clinton said he has been repeatedly asked to help build healthcare capability in the developing world.

Investment in healthcare infrastructure is sustainable and effective, the former president said in a keynote address. “They have to have health systems or we’ll be back here four or five years from now – not in these countries but in some other countries,” he said. “It is the most economically sensible thing to do.”

Mr. Clinton was addressing the United Nations Economic and Social Council, where healthcare officials were gathered to discuss the importance of healthcare partnerships around the world.

His comments were echoed by UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who stated, “One thing is clear: No single entity – no single nation or organization, can solve the problems alone.”

The Ebola outbreak reveals serious shortcomings in healthcare infrastructure in West Africa. Qualified personnel and satisfactory facilities are in short supply; at the height of the epidemic, the disease almost brought systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone to the breaking point.

Shortages in personnel are also severe. According to the BBC and Afri-Dev.Info, Liberia has a population of 4.2 million, but has only 51 doctors. Sierra Leone, with a population of 6 million, has 136 doctors.

Problems are worsened by a lack of adequate facilities: hospitals, treatment centers and clinics. Funding is a constant concern.

Infrastructure can be further strained by civil unrest caused by epidemics. In Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, one man set fire to the Ministry of Health in protest. Al Jazeera reported the man to be allegedly angry over the ministry’s handling of Ebola after he lost a family member to the disease.

With so few resources, an epidemic like Ebola can have a rippling effect on an already fragile system. Doctors may refuse or be unable to treat patients who suffer from diseases with symptoms similar to Ebola.

This leaves a gap which is currently filled by outside emergency relief. Dozens of organizations can be found in areas affected by Ebola. Global health and aid agencies working tirelessly to contain the disease have saved countless lives.

But emergency relief, even when effective, should not mask structural concerns in healthcare systems.

– Kevin McLaughlin

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC United Nations
Photo: Washington Times