Ebola: Hug when it's over
By Blanca Lomeli, M.D.
Senior Technical Advisor, Local Capacity Strengthening and Infectious Diseases

“Just Follow the Science”

This was one of the final pieces of advice we received at a training run by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention early in December. The training was for clinicians planning to work at Ebola Treatment Units in West Africa.

A dedicated team of CDC trainers and consultants taught physicians, nurses, and emergency responders; each and every one with clarity of purpose and a sense of pride from being able to contribute to ending this Ebola Epidemic.

The CDC training covered all the principles of infection control and prevention which mainly indicate a path to avoid human-to-human transmission.

The Science

For purposes of the training, IPC measures emphasized prevention and mitigation of risks from treating people with the disease who are admitted to Ebola Treatment Units. Because of the nature of this disease, the amount of virus in a person’s fluids increases as the person gets more and more sick. As more symptoms develop (hemorrhages, vomit, diarrhea, etc.) chances of healthy individuals being exposed also increase; this includes health care workers in ETUs, family members at home, and transportation crews (for people sick with the disease or bodies of those deceased). Burial teams, lab workers, and funeral workers are also at an elevated risk.

The Tragedy

In addition to learning about the technical aspects of the disease, we also heard more about the human tragedy of this epidemic from returning responders who had been in West Africa. From the volume of cases, the lack of specialized treatment units a few months ago, the lack of health workers when the number of those infected overwhelmed facilities’ capacity; the very real fears in the communities, the pain and suffering it caused as too many people died. And by extension, how much the disease has affected other areas of health, as many facilities saw their best and brightest die from Ebola. And other areas of life, as there are clear negative implications to the countries’ economy, education and agricultural sectors as well.

The Hope

The science of prevention is clear; Ebola is a known threat. We know about its transmission mechanisms, the symptoms it causes, and even how it travels from human to human and how it starts from infected animals to humans. The knowledge is available and, because of the sheer magnitude of this epidemic, now so is the global commitment to end it. We need to do more directly to detect, diagnose and prevent Ebola from being transmitted further. But we also need to do more to strengthen local health systems, sanitation systems, and communities’ awareness and mobilization. Ebola was relatively new in this area of the world. Many were caught by surprise and the disease thrived in areas where basic sanitation was missing or insufficient. The end of this epidemic is not the end of all health problems in this region of the world. We must stay committed to continue supporting the re-building of health, economic and social systems in West Africa. The science is clear – We know we can do this.