Strengthening Health Systems While Responding to a Health Crisis: Lessons Learned by a Nongovernmental Organization During the Ebola Virus Disease Epidemic in Sierra Leone

J Infect Dis. 2016 Oct 15;214(suppl 3):S153-S163. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiw345. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


An epidemic of Ebola virus disease (EVD) beginning in 2013 has claimed an estimated 11 310 lives in West Africa. As the EVD epidemic subsides, it is important for all who participated in the emergency Ebola response to reflect on strengths and weaknesses of the response. Such reflections should take into account perspectives not usually included in peer-reviewed publications and after-action reports, including those from the public sector, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), survivors of Ebola, and Ebola-affected households and communities. In this article, we first describe how the international NGO Partners In Health (PIH) partnered with the Government of Sierra Leone and Wellbody Alliance (a local NGO) to respond to the EVD epidemic in 4 of the country's most Ebola-affected districts. We then describe how, in the aftermath of the epidemic, PIH is partnering with the public sector to strengthen the health system and resume delivery of regular health services. PIH's experience in Sierra Leone is one of multiple partnerships with different stakeholders. It is also one of rapid deployment of expatriate clinicians and logistics personnel in health facilities largely deprived of health professionals, medical supplies, and physical infrastructure required to deliver health services effectively and safely. Lessons learned by PIH and its partners in Sierra Leone can contribute to the ongoing discussion within the international community on how to ensure emergency preparedness and build resilient health systems in settings without either.

Keywords: Ebola; Sierra Leone; emergency response; health system strengthening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Ebolavirus / physiology*
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Epidemics*
  • Health Facilities*
  • Health Personnel
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / epidemiology*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / virology
  • Humans
  • Organizations
  • Sierra Leone / epidemiology