Thursday, February 26, 2015

Public Health Challenges in Medical Volunteerism - You Can Haz Ebola?

A physician that traveled to West Africa to help treat patients with Ebola recently commented on media scrutiny since his return to the United States. After arriving in New York in October, Dr. Craig Spencer was diagnosed with an Ebola virus infection. He was treated and eventually recovered, but in the interim, public health officials criticized and questioned the risk he posed to the general public.

According to Spencer, he was named a public health menace by some and a hero by others, to which he responded, “...I am none of those things.”

Spencer went abroad to serve with Doctors Without Borders. He mentioned the challenges of providing medical services abroad, especially in treating such a dangerous virus, but Spencer also expressed the sense of satisfaction he felt from helping infected patients. “No matter how hour of profuse sweating in the suit and the satisfaction I got from treating ill patients washed away my fear and made me feel new again.”

Spencer’s comments raise interesting questions about the role of physician voices in public health campaigns. As Ebola. measles, and other infectious agents continue to pose substantial risks to communities domestically and abroad, it is important for the general public to hear from professionals working most proximally with these diseases.
Subjecting medical practitioners to rebuke from the media and public outcry may make it less likely for them to participate in efforts against infectious disease in developing areas, so it is critical that doctors with past or present experiences contribute to national dialogue about safe and ethical medical volunteerism.


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