Governments of all countries struggle with the issue of matching the supply of medical resources to meet the demand for health services. Even in the so-called developed world, resources are often described as being at ‘breaking point’. In the UK, this term has been applied in the last twelve months to GP services, hospital accident and emergency units, and the midwifery service. But there is no more stark reminder of the consequences of supply lagging behind demand than in the case of an epidemic, such as the ebola outbreak raging in West Africa.
On 22 September, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a press release that summarised a detailed study of the outbreak, the scale of the epidemic and forecasts of the number of cases and deaths in the future – unless urgent action was taken. What was clear was that the resources needed to halt the spread of the disease were not in place – medical facilities, medical staff, protective clothing and disinfectants, logistics support, and mortuary equipment and services. This is despite the fact that the WHO had issued a ‘road map’ three weeks earlier which outlined how to bring the outbreak under control in 6 to 9 months.
Last week, Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank had this to say in a speech to the IMF/World Bank annual meeting – “the global response has been late, inadequate and slow….. in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three West African countries hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak, just 30 medical response teams are on the ground, treating and caring for patients – even though we are now 11 months into this crisis. More health workers have been promised, but they’re arriving too slowly…. The stakes of this effort in human lives and economic growth are incredibly high and grow higher every day we delay in ramping up our response”.
At the moment, the disease is spreading at an exponential rate. It will not be halted until the resources deployed to combat the disease – hospital beds, health workers, equipment – are greater than the actual number of cases being presented. Capacity lagging is explained and illustrated on page 192 of our book.