Indirect effects of Ebola virus disease epidemics on health systems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia: a scoping review supplemented with expert interviews

Philippe Mulenga-Cilundika, Joel Ekofo, Chrispin Kabanga, Bart Criel, Wim Van Damme, Faustin Chenge

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Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemics have been extensively documented and have received large scientific and public attention since 1976. Until July 2022, 16 countries worldwide had reported at least one case of EVD, resulting in 43 epidemics. Most of the epidemics occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but the largest epidemic occurred from 2014-2016 in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa. The indirect effects of EVD epidemics on these countries' health systems, i.e., the consequences beyond infected patients and deaths immediately related to EVD, can be significant. The objective of this review was to map and measure the indirect effects of the EVD epidemics on the health systems of DRC, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and, from thereon, draw lessons for strengthening their resilience vis-à-vis future EVD outbreaks and other similar health emergencies. A scoping review of published articles from the PubMed database and gray literature was conducted. It was supplemented by interviews with experts. Eighty-six articles were included in this review. The results were structured based on WHO's six building blocks of a health system. During the EVD outbreaks, several healthcare services and activities were disrupted. A significant decline in indicators of curative care utilization, immunization levels and disease control activities was noticeable. Shortages of health personnel, poor health data management, insufficient funding and shortages of essential drugs characterized the epidemics that occurred in the above-mentioned countries. The public health authorities had virtually lost their leadership in the management of an EVD response. Governance was characterized by the development of a range of new initiatives to ensure adequate response. The results of this review highlight the need for countries to invest in and strengthen their health systems, through the continuous reinforcement of the building blocks, even if there is no imminent risk of an epidemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13113
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number20
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Humans
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola/epidemiology
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo/epidemiology
  • Sierra Leone/epidemiology
  • Guinea/epidemiology
  • Liberia/epidemiology
  • Drugs, Essential
  • Epidemics/prevention & control
  • Disease Outbreaks/prevention & control

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