How Liberia’s frontline health workers are protecting us all

Donors recognize the need for this long-term change. A spokesperson for the Global Fund said it was focused on supporting countries to “move away from donor funding towards nationally funded health systems” as they grow economically.

Studies show that the cost of damage caused by major epidemics far exceeds the investment needed to prevent them. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has cost the region $6 billion (£4.6 billion) and the world $15 billion (£11.4 billion). Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to cost the global economy at least $12.5trillion (£9.6trillion) by 2024.

The hope is that, in Liberia at least, the humble community health worker can play a key role in nipping the next emerging infectious disease in the bud. Meanwhile, these frontline healthcare workers are keeping their eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary.

Under the hot afternoon sun in the Liberian town of Wulu, Konobo, community health worker Emmanuel Poler examines a four-month-old child whose mother brought him swollen feet, a persistent fever and, she said, “white eyes”.

Wearing blue rubber gloves, Poler, 45, takes a prick of blood from the child to test for malaria, which comes back positive. Due to the severity of the symptoms, Poler refers the child to the health facility.

“They know the signs and symptoms themselves,” says Poler, noting the results in his large black notebook. “Now they come to me [for treatment]. They know that their health is in their hands. It’s in our hands.”

Reporting for this article was funded by the European Center for Journalism, through the Global Health Security Call, a program supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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