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(AFP) – The devastating effect of Ebola on Liberia’s fragile health system may have killed more people than the virus itself, a new study says, many of them pregnant women and malaria patients.
The West African nation was the worst-hit by the haemorrhagic virus during the 2014-16 outbreak, leaving 4,800 dead and thousands more with lingering symptoms.
The study in the journal PLOS Medicine conducted by a team from the University of Washington and released late Tuesday found that up to 67 per cent of essential primary care disappeared during and immediately after the epidemic.
“Pregnant women weren’t getting essential antenatal care. Those in labour weren’t going to the clinic to give birth but were instead birthing at home,” said Bradley Wagenaar, the study’s lead author.
In a nation of just over 4.5 million people, Ebola led to the loss of 25,000 tuberculosis vaccinations, 5,000 births that took place without expert medical care, and 100,000 fewer treatments for malaria when the scientists analysed the situation before and during the outbreak.
“Ebola’s collateral effects on (Liberia’s) health system likely caused more deaths than Ebola did directly,” the university said in a press release.
One of the most pernicious effects of the virus was the infection of almost 300 medical staff in Liberia, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures, limiting access to care where it was already severely restricted.
This combined with the fact that money sent by international donors to rebuild the overwhelmed health system largely failed to reach its intended target, Wagenaar said.
“Once the Ebola outbreak ended, the sad truth is that most of the money earmarked for health systems improvement in Liberia disappeared,” he said in a statement accompanying the report.
Although many healthcare indicators have largely returned to pre-Ebola levels in Liberia, diseases such as malaria have a higher prevalence than before the virus hit, with 50 per cent more cases than in December 2013.
The outbreak of the highly contagious and often deadly virus directly killed more than 11,000 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.