The Ebola epidemic has thrown the spotlight on the shortage of health care workers in Africa, with many countries facing major challenges to rebuild, said Professor Michael Kidd, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Flinders University.

The worst of the crisis has been felt in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where already community health care was well below World Health Organisation standards, Professor Kidd told the 4th World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) Africa Conference in Accra, Ghana this month (6 May).

“This region of the world has faced huge challenges over the past year, especially from the impact of the Ebola crisis,” said Professor Kidd, who is President of the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA). “As you know, many front-line doctors and nurses were among the victims of Ebola and this has left the health services in affected countries vulnerable and unable to cope with meeting the continuing health-care needs of their communities,” Professor Kidd said.

“I hope this conference will tackle how we can work together to support rebuilding the health care services in the countries of this region that have been affected by the Ebola crisis, especially Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and reinforce the need to focus on strengthening community-based health care services in all nations in Africa.”

While Liberia was declared Ebola-free on May 9, current estimates are that there have been more than 26,000 cases and more than 11,000 deaths in the latest Ebola outbreak. In the worst affected area of West Africa, the outbreak has had an unprecedented effect on already struggling services, with more than 820 health care workers infected and the death toll now approaching 500.

Professor Kidd said another part of the tragedy was the flow-on effect of “paralysed” health services being unable to provide care for other needs of the affected communities, particularly in rural and remote areas. Already Africa faced a “huge discrepancy between the high burden of disease and the scarcity of health care workers, particularly doctors” compared to the rest of the world.

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