Ebola, fragile health systems and tuberculosis care: a call for preemptive action and operational research

The Ebola outbreak that started in late 2013 is by far the largest and most sustained in history. It occurred in a part of the world where pre-existing health systems were already fragile, and these deteriorated further during the epidemic due to a large number of health worker deaths; temporary or permanent closure of health facilities; nonpayment of health workers; intrinsic fear of contracting or being stigmatised by Ebola among the population, which negatively influenced health-seeking behaviour; enforced quarantine of Ebola-affected communities, restricting the access of vulnerable individuals to health facilities; and late response by the international community. There are also reports of drug and consumable stock outs due to deficiencies in the procurement and supply chain as a result of overriding Ebola-related priorities. This paper highlights that providing tuberculosis (TB) care and achieving favourable treatment outcomes require a fully functioning health system, accurate patient tracking and high patient adherence to treatment. Furthermore, as Ebola is easily transmitted through body fluids, the use of needles – essential for TB diagnosis and treatment— needs to be avoided during an outbreak. We highlight ways in which a sustained Ebola outbreak could jeopardise TB activities and suggest pre-emptive preventive measures while awaiting operational research evidence.

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