Ebola in the context of conflict affected states and health systems: case studies of Northern Uganda and Sierra Leone
Authors: Barbara McPake, Sophie Witter, Sarah Ssali, Haja Wurie, Justine Namakula and Freddie Ssengooba
Conflict and Health 2015, 9:23
Ebola seems to be a particular risk in conflict affected settings. This paper compares the experience of Northern Uganda and Sierra Leone in the emergence and management of Ebola outbreaks in 2000-1 and in 2014-15 respectively, and how elements of these conflict affected societies affected the disease outbreak and the response.
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Ebola seems to be a particular risk in conflict-affected contexts. All three of the countries most affected by the 2014-15 outbreak had a complex, conflict-affected recent history. Other major outbreaks in the recent past, in Northern Uganda and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, were similarly afflicted although outbreaks have also occurred in stable settings. Although the 2014-15 outbreak in West Africa received more attention than almost any other public health issue at that time, very little of that attention was focused on the complex interaction between conflict and its aftermath and its implications for health systems, the emergence of the disease and the success or failure in controlling it.
The health systems of conflict-affected states are characterized by a series of weaknesses, some common to other low- and even middle-income countries, others specifically conflict-related. Added to this is the burden placed on health systems by the aggravated health problems associated with conflict. Other features of post-conflict health systems are a consequence of the global institutional response.
Comparing the experience of Northern Uganda and Sierra Leone in the emergence and management of Ebola outbreaks in 2000-1 and in 2014-15 respectively highlighted how the various elements of these conflict-affected societies came together with international agencies’ responses to permit the outbreak of the disease and then to successfully contain it (in Northern Uganda) or to fail to do so before a catastrophic cost had been incurred (in Sierra Leone).
These case studies have implications for the types of investments in health systems that are needed to enable effective response to Ebola and other zoonotic diseases where they arise in conflict- affected settings.