A Focus on Liberia

This past year has been critical for effect:hope. So much work has been done in laying the foundation necessary to fulfill our promises of hope for the children, women and men with leprosy and other Neglected Tropical Diseases.

While we bring healing and hope to 12 countries around the world, Liberia has been a focus country in 2015.

Still recovering after the devastation of the Ebola outbreak, this is a country where the need for proper health care is desperate and the people are searching in vain for any glimmer of hope.

People here have limited access to even the most basic health care.

According to the World Health Organization, “When Ebola hit West Africa the healthcare systems of the region were under-financed and poorly equipped. Liberia had only 130 doctors for a country of 4.5 million people. Many of those doctors died of the disease.

These statistics are staggering and completely unacceptable. The government and the people of Liberia need our help.

This past year, effect:hope has been instrumental in bringing together key partners to support the Ministry of Health in their assessement of the health care situation in Liberia, particularly for those with leprosy and other Neglected Tropical Diseases.

We spoke to doctors, nurses, support staff in hospitals and clinics; we went door-to-door in communities and held information sessions in remote villages – we spoke to people in every corner of Liberia to understand the number of people affected by leprosy and other Neglected Tropical Diseases, particularly lymphatic filariasis and Buruli ulcer, and the health care available to them.

What we discovered was shocking.

“OVER THE PAST 140 YEARS WE’VE EVOLVED FROM BEING SHELTERS FOR PEOPLE TO BEING FACILITATORS FOR DIGNITY. I FIND THAT VERY INSPIRING.”
DR. JERRY JOSHUA

In Nimba, the only county where leprosy is properly recorded, there were more cases noted than in all other counties combined. There is no disease-specific reason for this anomaly. We know there must be thousands of cases across Liberia that are not recorded and not receiving treatment.

There are many reasons for this including a lack of transportation systems, a lack of access to basic health care and a lack of knowledge amongst healthcare workers.

Leprosy still carries a high degree of stigma for people throughout Liberia. Our team was told that those infected have to go to the “sick bush” – meaning they had to hide themselves from their community and stay with other people who were also affected by the disease.

Buruli ulcer is also prevalent, but without proper health care systems, the people of Liberia refer to this disease as “everlasting sores” – they had little knowledge that these sores can be healed and the person completely cured. Even if the people knew the truth, traveling to a hospital is almost impossible.

Liberia has very little infrastructure in the rural areas. Our team got stuck several times in muddy trenches that were impassible. It’s hard to imagine how someone with disabilities from leprosy would manage such terrain.

Something had to be done – something never done before. While our partner hospitals in India, Nepal and Bangladesh are doing amazing work with few resources, we knew Liberia needed more than a localized strategy – they needed a solution to impact the entire country.

effect:hope and our partners are supporting the Ministry of Health to set in motion a new and innovative approach in Liberia. We’ve brought key stakeholders, including the Neglected Tropical Diseases manager for the Ministry of Health in Liberia, along with many other government and non-government representatives together to create lasting change in this country.

For the first time ever, disease management for leprosy and other Neglected Tropical Diseases will be integrated into the national health care plan. The dividing walls between treatment for those with leprosy and Buruli ulcer and treatment for the general population have been torn down.

According to the plan, by 2021, every person in Liberia will have access to diagnosis and treatment of Neglected Tropical Diseases provided by the Liberian healthcare system.

Our goals are ambitious – but they can be achieved.

The world is taking notice. In 2016, the World Health Organization will be sitting down with effect:hope, the Ministry of Health and our partners to see how the plan can be replicated in other countries around the world!

This is a game changer – and you are a valued part of this success. We thank you for your support and look forward to continued celebrations over the achievements you’re helping make happen for children, women and men with leprosy and other Neglected Tropical Diseases.

IN REMOTE REGIONS, REACHING A HOSPITAL FOR SPECIALIZED CARE IS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR PEOPLE SUFFERING WITH DISABILITY.