It is a nightmare brought to life. Our worst fears confirmed, the deadly Ebola virus has arrived in Nigeria and already at least 8 people are feared to be infected.
Discovered in 1976, Ebola has been profiled as an ‘African Disease’ that is a reflection of poor healthcare service. The recent outbreak however puts that line of thought in doubt as well as questions all previous assumptions and knowledge about the ailment.
For instance, the co-discoverer of the virus has been quoted as saying that he wouldn’t be worries about sitting next to an Ebola patient on a train except the person vomited on him or something. He went ahead to cite instances of children living in houses with Ebola patients without contacting the disease, in 1976.
The 2014 version of Ebola seems quite different. Despite the use of full Personal Protective Gear (Masks, gloves, goggles,scrubs), health-workers are getting infected.
Mr Sawyer, an American who flew into Nigeria with the disease and was seen in a hospital in Lagos for barely 72 hours and yet at least 4 medical personnel that attended to him are believed to be infected as well.
This raises questions.
1. Is the transmission of this virus fully understood?
2. Is this strain of Ebola different? If yes, how?
3. Can we continue to use the usual methods of patient care and nursing despite the huge risks?
4. What changes could we make? If wishes were horses?
Personally, the outbreak has kept me thinking. One thing is very clear, we don’t know enough about this illness and we need to change the way we are handling it if we are to make any progress towards ending the scourge.
That’s where technology comes in. If resources were available, these are some of the things I would like to see.
1. Robots used to clean, feed and nurse the affected patients.
2. Specialized beddings that soak and disinfect secretions as they are being produced.
3. Skype type communication with affected patients.
4. Mechanised disposal of bodies in dedicated cremation machines.
And so on.
As long as a cure doesn’t exist, breaking the chain of transmission is the only hope. If one man could infect eight others then imagine: how many people could be at risk from the eight?
It is time for scientists, bio-scientists and engineers to join the fight against this dreadful disease.
It is time for a change of tactics in curbing the spread.
The sooner, the best.
P/S: Opportunities exist for clinicians interested in working with Ebola patients. Contact me.