Via The Lancet, an editorial: Ebola: protection of health workers on the front line.
Although fears were raised about the possible spread of Ebola virus to the UK and USA last week, the real concern remains in west Africa. Unlike previous outbreaks in east Africa that were brought under control fairly swiftly, the west African outbreak has become the worst in history. 1603 people have had suspected or confirmed Ebola virus disease in the four affected countries (Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria) and 887 died between March, 2014, and Aug 1, 2014.
On Aug 1, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and the presidents of the affected countries launched a new joint US$100 million plan to bring the outbreak under control. The intensified response is much needed. The plan rightly recognises the need for several hundred more personnel, including clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, and social mobilisation experts, to be deployed to the affected countries.
Domestic and foreign health workers on the ground dealing with the outbreak have been overstretched. On June 24, Médecins Sans Frontières warned that its teams had reached the limits of what they could do. More than 60 health workers have already died from Ebola while helping others, including doctor Sheik Umar Khan who is credited with treating more than 100 patients with the disease in Sierra Leone.
Health workers on the front line are at increased risk of contracting Ebola by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of infected patients. Use of adequate personal protective clothing and equipment when caring for patients or the deceased, thorough cleaning, and effective waste disposal, can substantially reduce the risk of infection.
Worryingly, last week the World Medical Association reported that many of its junior doctor members dealing with the outbreak had not been provided with essential protective equipment.
The situation is disturbing and unacceptable. Governments, WHO, and the international community have a collective responsibility not only to fully staff the effort to bring Ebola under control, but also to provide adequate protective clothing, training, and support for anyone coming into contact with patients.