Partners in Health calls for community health worker networks fight ebola

Leave it to Dr. Paul Farmer to use the word “optimistic” in reference to the Ebola epidemic. Writing in the Globe op/ed section, he and Joia Mukherjee, chief medical officer of Partners in Health, call for the kind of community health worker programs they use to fight another raging epidemic — drug-resistant tuberculosis.

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…

Years ago, when Partners in Health first engaged in fighting another deadly epidemic — drug-resistant tuberculosis — our colleague Jim Yong Kim (now president of the World Bank) and others referred to it as “Ebola with wings.” We learned then, in settings from the slums of Lima to the mountains of Lesotho, that community-based care, delivered in large part by community health workers, was not only safer than facility-based care, it was also more effective. This was true when caregivers had the staff, stuff, space, and systems required to prevent, diagnose, and treat tuberculosis with the tools of the trade. “Community-based care” does not mean “community-based no care”: that, we’re providing already, and at large scale

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