Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Availability of essential health services in post-conflict Liberia

Margaret E Kruk, Peter C Rockers, Elizabeth H Williams, S Tornorlah Varpilah, Rose Macauley, Geetor Saydee & Sandro Galea

Objective

To assess the availability of essential health services in northern Liberia in 2008, five years after the end of the civil war.

Methods

We carried out a population-based household survey in rural Nimba county and a health facility survey in clinics and hospitals nearest to study villages. We evaluated access to facilities that provide index essential services: artemisinin combination therapy for malaria, integrated management of childhood illness, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) counselling and testing, basic emergency obstetric care and treatment of mental illness.

Findings

Data were obtained from 1405 individuals (98% response rate) selected with a three-stage population-representative sampling method, and from 43 of Nimba county’s 49 health facilities selected because of proximity to the study villages. Respondents travelled an average of 136 minutes to reach a health facility. All respondents could access malaria treatment at the nearest facility and 55.9% could access HIV testing. Only 26.8%, 14.5%, and 12.1% could access emergency obstetric care, integrated management of child illness and mental health services, respectively.

Conclusion

Although there has been progress in providing basic services, rural Liberians still have limited access to life-saving health care. The reasons for the disparities in the services available to the population are technical and political. More frequently available services (HIV testing, malaria treatment) were less complex to implement and represented diseases favoured by bilateral and multilateral health sector donors. Systematic investments in the health system are required to ensure that health services respond to current and future health priorities.

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