John Snow Incorporated (JSI) Research and Training Institute on Tuesday began the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Ebola Transmission Prevention and Survivor Services (ETP&SS) program at a resort in Monrovia.
The program, which is being implemented by the Advancing Partners and Communities project, was launched by Tolbert Nyenswah, Deputy Health Minister for Public Health Emergencies and Epidemic Control.
The event convened representatives from the Ministry of Health, USAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization, among others to support the program's activities.
The ETP&SS program operates under the umbrella of priorities set by USAID's Global Health Ebola Team. It works with ministries of health and non-governmental organizations in countries of West Africa that were most affected by the Ebola outbreak - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Dr. Rose Macauley, ETP&SS Program Chief of Party in Liberia, said the purpose of the launch was to improve understanding of the ETP&SS program including the focus and limits of its activities.
In Liberia, The ETP&SS program will concentrate its health interventions on four high-priority counties which are Montserrado, Margibi, Bong, and Lofa.
In the other seven counties where Ebola survivors reside, the survivors will receive clinical guidance and support for referral options. The high-impact activities aim to lessen the risk of resurgence of the Ebola virus.
Ebola survivors continue to experience psychological conditions which require specialized medical attention that is difficult to access either because of stigma and discrimination or because expertise to manage such cases is limited in Liberia. ETP&SS is working closely with the MOH to implement components of the Ebola Survivor Care and Support Policy, which address many of the challenges that Ebola survivors face in accessing health services.
During the launch, Dr. Macauley clearly communicated the program's mandate and outlined the three core objectives which are strengthening coordination and management of activities for Ebola survivors; improving access for survivors to health services that care for survivors while combating stigma and discrimination among providers; and building health system capacity to provide specialized health services to care for common complications.
A major accomplishment for ETP&SS has been establishing leadership for the National Survivor Secretariat and the National Ebola Survivor Network, two coordinating bodies that work together to improve care for Ebola survivors.
The president of the National Ebola Survivor Network, Patrick Faley, thanked JSI, USAID and the Liberian Government for their continued support to survivors across the country, specifically for clinical services.
ETP&SS has given a grant to ELWA Hospital, which provides comprehensive services for Ebola survivors to ensure that they can easily access necessary services. Similar arrangements with other hospitals are underway.
Mr. Faley said, "We have informed survivors across the country that they no longer have to worry about the issue of medical care as ELWA Hospital is providing free clinical care."
Dr. Anthony Chan, USAID-Liberia Mission Director, lauded ETP&SS for its work.
He added, "I am impressed by the planned activities which show that you have seriously considered the challenges you will encounter and thought through innovative ways to manage them."
Mr. Nyenswah recalled the importance of planning a strategy and then the resources to follow, noting, "I knew this day would come because we had a plan and a strategy for dealing with Ebola survivors."
CDC Country Director, Dr. Desmond Williams, was also hopeful about the program's potential to impact Ebola survivors.
"We will need to continue all the work we are doing. Seeing all this work come together is really exciting to me. I want to congratulate JSI in being very efficient and moving quickly to put this in place," Dr. Williams said.
A common consensus from audience members and presenters alike was a need to maintain survivors as the central focus of the program. One of ETP&SS' key goals is to build capacity for the Survivor Network and Survivor Secretariat to mobilize on their own. Immediate next steps for the Survivor Secretariat include finding current data on the number of survivors, mapping the survivors and linking them to the necessary services.
WHO representative, Dr. Alex Gasasira, conveyed his enthusiasm for the program's future, adding, "Liberia is the first of the three most affected countries to have country specific guidelines for survivor services. We feel confident that we are moving in the right direction and hope you take the program to the next level."
Amanda Gbarmo-Ndorbor, National Coordinator of the Survivor Secretariat, encouraged collaboration among the diverse partners.
She said the secretariat's door is open to all, thereby encouraging survivors and other stakeholders to come with their ideas and innovations so together they can help make health and social services accessible to survivors."