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LETTER OF THE DAY - Mandeville Hospital Ebola shame

Published:Saturday | October 25, 2014 | 10:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

The front-page story in The Gleaner of October 22, 2014 about Mandeville Hospital titled 'Not Ebola-ready' broke my heart. It was distressing to read of the treatment meted out to an ill patient at an institution that has so much personal significance to me, having interned at that facility in 1995 after five years of med school.

But worse than the personal sadness is the shame I feel as a member of the medical profession to know that my colleagues would allow such panic and hysteria to reign.

As doctors, the most important tools of our profession are not stethoscopes and personal protective equipment (PPE). What we should be using is a pair of ears to listen to the history the patient is giving, eyes to examine the patient, a brain to process the information obtained by ears and eyes, and compassion for the human being that is seeking help.

Effective use of those tools usually leads to sensible diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Had these tools been used with this patient, the lack of PPE and a designated isolation unit would have been moot, because the history alone would have indicated that this was very unlikely to be Ebola virus disease. The dates of travel were well outside of the incubation period for the virus. Even if the history was not clear, engagement of brain and compassion would have ensured that an ill patient would not have been further traumatised and stigmatised.

Fear is a normal human emotion, often rooted in ignorance. As doctors, we cannot afford the luxury of fear based on ignorance, and when there are grounds for fear, we cannot afford to succumb to panic at the expense of our patients. Part of being a competent doctor means finding a way to do your job even in the face of fear.

At this point in the Ebola drama, it is vital that all doctors are well informed on the basic facts of this deadly disease. That is the first step to fighting the fear. We don't need an edict from the Ministry of Health to educate ourselves. Reliable information is readily available on the Internet.

Then, while we wait for the Ministry of Health to provide PPE, and locations of isolation units, we have a responsibility to share the facts about Ebola virus disease with the people we interact with every day, be it patients, co-workers, friends or family. We can take the initiative to encourage the people we inform to spread the facts instead of rumours.

We should not be adding to the panic and fear fuelled by ignorance; we should be trying to create order and calm by sharing accurate useful information.

Ebola readiness is not something to be handed out by the ministry in the form of PPE and fever scanners. Ebola readiness is something that every single person has to take personal responsibility for, and begins with becoming informed. Acquiring, sharing and acting on available factual information is the responsibility of every single doctor and nurse. Ebola readiness also means that we do not forget that a person with the dreaded infection is still a human being. As doctors, we ought to be setting an example, not adding to the problem.

KANCHANA BANDARA-COORE

Medical Doctor

kbcoore@yahoo.com

Kingston 8