Liberian health system resilience: lessons from the 2014–2015 West African Ebola epidemic
Rogers, Deirdre Ann
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I. BACKGROUND: Following a review of donor funding priorities and concepts of health system strengthening (HSS) and resilience, this dissertation documents health system resilience factors existing in the Liberian health system in late 2014/early 2015 as the Ebola epidemic flared. The effectiveness of the WHO health system building blocks framework in addressing resilience was assessed, and specific factors that can promote health system resilience for Liberia going forward were identified. II. METHODS: Methods applied as part of this intrinsic case study include document and literature review, analysis of health facility and population-level statistics, and key informant and group interviews at the county and national levels. The methodology allowed for an in-depth assessment of how HSS (using the WHO health system building blocks) and resilience factors (using the WHO-defined key aspects of emergency preparedness) exist (or could exist) within the Liberian institutional and cultural context, and for tentative conclusions to be drawn about the importance of system factors to building specific health system capacities and overall health system resilience. III. FINDINGS: While dealing with myriad other public health priorities, public health preparedness went largely unaddressed in pre-Ebola Liberia where effectively none of the 16 key components or their 51 essential attributes listed in the WHO table of emergency preparedness were in place. The lack of integration of public health preparedness into HSS interventions left the country vulnerable to public health emergencies. There are two limitations to the government’s Ebola recovery and investment plan: (1) lack of a holistic approach to addressing emergency preparedness; and (2) not integrating emergency preparedness needs and corresponding activities into the existing national HSS framework. IV. CONCLUSION: By integrating emergency preparedness and response initiatives into HSS activities, health systems in Liberia and elsewhere can be strengthened to be more resilient, and thus better able to anticipate and adapt to challenges, and ultimately improve the system to be able to anticipate new future challenges. However, strengthening health systems so that they are resilient takes resources, including sector-wide, HSS resources that can be used to build functioning, integrated systems and skilled, networked individuals and groups across sectors.