Can contact tracing help stop the spread of Ebola?
Contact tracing is key to stanching the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Our partners Last Mile Health in Liberia and Wellbody Alliance in Sierra Leone have community health workers on the ground presently conducting contact tracing. Partners In Health will help them strengthen their work and link the patients they are finding with Ebola Treatment Units so they get the care they need.
Contact tracing is especially important with regard to Ebola because if we can find patients early in their course of illness, before they’re vomiting or suffering from diarrhea, we can significantly reduce the risk of exposure to family members and community health workers.
That said, we are aware of the risks health workers face in doing this work, and we are working to ensure they have proper protective equipment, proper training, and proper support. We are also committed to working with local health workers who understand the cultural context and are trusted in the communities they serve.
Is contact tracing the only way PIH finds patients who may need care?
No. It’s important to note that contact tracing is just one part of our active case finding strategy. As mentioned above, active case finding is central to PIH’s mission and it’s critical for several reasons, including the fact that many patients are too sick to seek care and would be connected to the health system if it wasn’t for dedicated community health workers.
In addition to contact tracing, PIH conducts active case finding in many different ways, and not just for sick people. At PIH sites in Lesotho, for example, specially trained maternal health workers make monthly door-to-door visits to see if women may be pregnant. If a woman has had morning sickness or her menstrual cycle is late, she will be accompanied to a nearby clinic for a pregnancy test that day. If she’s pregnant, she’s enrolled in a comprehensive maternal care program that provides ongoing clinical and social support.
How do you know you’ve screened everyone who needs to be screened?
Often we don’t. That’s why contact tracing is just one part of our comprehensive approach to active case finding. It’s also why PIH is committed to hiring health workers from the communities we serve.