Partners In Health Co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer appeared on PRI’s The World Thursday to discuss the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Nearly 2,000 cases of Ebola have been detected across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, and the outbreak has been linked to more than 1,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Farmer shared an anecdote about returning to Kigali, Rwanda, last month after attending a surgical conference in Sierra Leone. At the airport in Kigali, Farmer had his temperature taken soon after getting off the plane, a positive sign that systems for disease surveillance are functioning well in the region.

He pointed out that the current Ebola outbreak is a stark reminder that we need to focus on strengthening entire health systems, from supporting community health workers who accompany patients and conduct active case-finding to bolstering the capacity of Ministries of Health so that they are well-staffed and well-supplied to respond when such outbreaks occur.

“Building those systems takes significant investment, and of course, many of us have long argued that not building them is far more costly,” Farmer told The World. "I work with airborne diseases like drug-resistant tuberculosis, or tuberculosis, and there's ample reason to be cautious, but the good news is there are always people willing to confront deadly epidemics like this. Community health workers, who almost never get remembered, could and should be the front line against epidemics like this, but they need the support that all of us need if we're going to be health care providers, and that support, again, requires tools for diagnosis, for care, and for self-protection. If we are willing to invest in these systems, we'll always find people willing to take risks to help serve the rest of humanity."

PIH is diligently monitoring the situation in West Africa, but we are not actively involved in delivering care in that region. We stand in solidarity with the patients and families, and health care providers affected by the outbreak, and we encourage international donors to support organizations that are well-coordinated with local governments so that they can provide local aid to relieve the emergency needs of the population. If you would like to support such efforts, please consider learning about the work of Last Mile Health in Liberia and Wellbody Alliance in Sierra Leone.

The full interview with Dr. Paul Farmer is available here: