Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ebola Update—We can’t give up prematurely!

Peter Piot, one of the professors who co-discoverer of the virus back in 1976, says that the outbreak isn’t nearly over. In a recent statement he urged continuing investment in vaccine and antiviral development. The world hoped that Ebola was dying down, but it came back to Liberia just before it would have been officially “Ebola-free.” While the incidence is declining, people are still dying. The only way to contain Ebola will be to stop it at its source. Thousands more people could die if the virus were to establish in other parts of the world. These deaths aren’t even counting those from starvation, childbirth-related complications, or other health conditions that couldn’t be treated because the healthcare systems in the region were in such disarray.

Professor Piot things that there is an “underground” transmission network that public health authorities aren’t addressing. There have been a variety of proposed solutions, including Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma’s suggestion of a three-day lockdown period. The last time the country tried this people rioted.

One particularly clever medical technology that I wouldn’t have thought about is a tablet into which healthcare workers can input patient information, and then dunk in chlorine so that the tablet can go in and out of the quarantine facilities. These tablets can also send the data wirelessly to other tablets, and access patients’ medical records when Internet connection is available. Previously, they would have to read the information to someone on the other side of a barrier before destroying the paper.

Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, and it’s going to take a lot of resources and ingenuity to contain it. The risks are too great for us to wait and hope it burns itself out.


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