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Drawing on decades of experience to face the Zika virus head-on
The recent outbreak of the Zika virus across Latin America and the Pacific, and the alarming and tragic impact of the disease, have captured the world’s attention. At URC, our decades of work in global health security and the control and mitigation of infectious disease outbreaks have prepared us to address this new challenge head-on.
From preventing new infections through effective social and behavior change communication, to collecting and analyzing data to tailor contextually-specific solutions, to strengthening the health services that will manage the new infections, URC brings our 50 years of experience to combat this emergent health threat.
URC experience highlight: Fighting Ebola in Ghana
When USAID funded the Systems for Health project in Ghana, our task was significant, and clear: work with the government of Ghana to expand the coverage and quality of health services by scaling up interventions to reduce unintended pregnancies, maternal, newborn and under-five mortality, and improve the nutritional status of mothers and young children.
The emergence of Ebola in the region in March of 2014 required a quick change of focus for the government, USAID, and the project. URC quickly adapted its original health care quality improvement plans to include a three-pronged approach the preparing Ghana to fight this new threat.
First, we helped ensure an effective policy environment was in place by working with the Ghanaian government to update their National Policy and Guidelines for Infection Prevention and Control in Healthcare Settings to include the most current information on hemorrhagic fevers, and in particular Ebola and cholera preparedness.
Next, we designed an 18 module competency-based training for health care workers. Our training is completed on-site at hospitals across the country, at the national, regional, and district levels. We provide infection prevention and control skills for every level of worker at the hospital - from managers, to doctors, to janitors - to ensure that each worker understands their role in preventing the spread of the disease.
Finally, we launched a behavior change communication campaign to help the public understand how to protect themselves. In addition to traditional BCC activities like radio ads, we convened a meeting of religious leaders and representatives of faith-based groups from across the country. These leaders issued an edict, to be read at religious gatherings, mosques and churches, which put their combined authority and significant social influence behind “bringing out the facts and truth about the disease, and promoting solidarity, social cohesion, compassion and humanity,” according to Ghana Health Service's Dr. Badu Sarkodie, Director of Public Health.
Applying what we know: Zika and beyond
URC’s approach to improving health outcomes, regardless of disease, strengthens the performance and interconnectedness of the six health system building blocks identified by the World Health Organization: service delivery, health workforce, strategic information, commodities, health financing, and leadership and governance. While the threat of Ebola has quieted, the strengthened systems put in place in response to the epidemic leave Ghana well-positioned to address the whatever new threats emerge in the future.