As doctors with long experience in fighting epidemic diseases, we have just returned from the front lines of the Ebola crisis in Liberia and are dismayed over the scale of the outbreak. But we are also optimistic. After months in which Ebola seemed to be winning a battle against the citizens and health care providers in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the world’s leaders are unleashing the first ambitious efforts to fight back.
Last week, the United Nations declared an all-out war against Ebola, saying that “we cannot afford delays; the penalty for inaction is high.” It passed a resolution calling for every member state to accelerate its response to the outbreak and to lift travel restrictions on the most affected countries; with 134 votes, the resolution garnered more support than any previous one. Meanwhile, the United States is dispatching 3,000 soldiers as well as medical and public health troops to Liberia with an unprecedented mission: Wage war on Ebola by helping the battered Liberian public-health and medical community, including setting up treatment units in each of Liberia’s 15 counties. President Obama called for a “campaign for community care.”
Community care could, when coupled with infection control, stop the epidemic. Of course, the region needs more treatment units for the sort of care that can only be provided in an in-patient setting. And hospital care can be improved long-term only by training and equipping Sierra Leoneans and Liberians: the staff and the “stuff” required to save lives. But it also needs to provide the tools that smaller clinics and front line health workers need to fight the virus in their neighborhoods and villages.