The Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) is expanding to Liberia as its fifth partner country for the 2016-2017 academic year. The program will place volunteer physicians and nurses in medical and nursing schools to teach and work alongside local faculty to expand capacity, strengthen the quality and breadth of education, and ultimately, improve care for patients. The Peace Corps announced the expansion in a press release issued on March 29. You can read the release here.
“We are indeed grateful to the Peace Corps for their incredible role creating the Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) and cementing a partnership with Seed Global Health aimed at informing capacity building and skills transfer, which will inevitably lead to tremendous improvement in the healthcare sector,” said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The expansion of GHSP to Liberia follows in the wake of the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the largest outbreak in history. As of March 2016, there have been 15,219 confirmed cases and 11,305 deaths across the three most severely affected countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
The outbreak highlighted the need for strong health systems in order to respond to complex and rapidly changing health crises. In particular, a critical shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care workers hampered Liberia’s ability to control the epidemic and provide lifesaving care to patients. Prior to the outbreak, Liberia had only one doctor for every 71,000 people and one nurse for over 3,600. By comparison, the US has one doctor for every 400 people and one nurse for every 100.
Despite being severely understaffed and short of resources, the Liberian health system responded valiantly to the epidemic. Working on the front lines of the epidemic, health workers died at a higher rate than any other population group. The World Bank estimates that Liberia lost 10 percent of its doctors and 8 percent of its nurses and midwives. And with most health workers and resources focused on responding to Ebola, access to maternal and child health care and treatment for other illnesses and injuries also suffered.
The government of Liberia has developed a health workforce program strategy to rebuild and strengthen their health care system from the devastating effects of the Ebola epidemic and over a decade of civil conflict that ended in 2003. The strategy calls for an addition of 6,000 health workers over the next six years. The GHSP program will contribute to the government of Liberia’s plan to rapidly increase the number of nurses, midwives, and physicians. Without such action, it has been estimated that maternal mortality in Liberia will more than double, giving it the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
“In the wake of the Ebola epidemic, Liberia’s Ministry of Health has mapped out a comprehensive, seven-year strategy to strengthen and expand the national health workforce, with the goal of creating ‘a fit-for-purpose, motivated, and highly skilled workforce,’ ” Seed Global Health CEO Dr. Vanessa Kerry observed. “We are excited and honored to have been invited to participate in that effort by helping educate and mentor the next generation of Liberian physicians, nurses, and midwives.”