Opinion: Equipped to combat Ebola

As the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa continues to gather pace, how well is the world equipped to deal with its potential spread to other areas?

Susan Birks
Deputy Editor

Like many of the current crises unfolding around the world, the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak poses some difficult questions for developed nations; such as – will travel and trade restrictions help to stem the spread of EVD and are we equipped to handle a similar outbreak over here?

According to the World Health Organisation’s 28 August 2014 update, the number of probable and confirmed cases in the current outbreak in the four affected countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone is 3069, with 1552 deaths. The outbreak continues to accelerate as more than 40% of the total cases have occurred within the past 21 days. However, most of these are concentrated in only a few localities.

Clearly, attempts to contain EVD are difficult in areas where clinics have limited resources – no running water, no climate control, no flooring and inadequate medical supplies. Westerners have seen with MSRA how hard it is to maintain good infection and hygiene practices in routine care in our hospitals. How difficult must it be for healthcare workers in West Africa?

However, decisions to restrict travel in the region may do more harm than good, as they also limit the necessary medical supplies, food and everyday sanitation equipment getting into areas that need them. These countries need the basic PPE items and lots of them, as well as personnel from the local area trained in the extreme hygiene practices required when deailing with such patients.

Even then, PPE such as bunnysuits – which are hot to wear in mild climates – are not easy to endure for long in the tropics.

Developed countries can be reassured by the notion that we have modern isolation wards with the latest PPE that enable carers to treat the patient without direct contact in specially designed barrier tents, but they are expensive and require disposal after a single use. New pods that can be used to provide isolation and are self-decontaminating with hydrogen peroxide are another option now being offered by several companies.

One only hopes that we have enough such equipment to hand should a large outbreak occur.

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