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Ebola panic: Local doctors say they are not equipped to handle deadly virus

Published:Thursday | October 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Nine-year-old Nowa Paye is taken to an ambulance after showing signs of the Ebola infection in the village of Freeman Reserve, Liberia, on Tuesday. Aid donations are still inadequate, as the international community tries to increase the ability to care for the spiraling number of people infected with the disease which has hit Liberia the hardest. AP Photo

Corey Robinson, Staff Reporter

If the Ebola virus should reach Jamaica, doctors at the nation's hospitals, particularly the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), do not have the safety gear needed to treat affected persons, and some say they will not expose themselves or their charges by treating Ebola patients.

A workshop put on yesterday, in light of the outbreak in Africa, erupted in concerns after it was disclosed that health officials in Jamaica do not have the requisite hazard-management gear, or even the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved personal protection equipment (PPE) to deal with the Ebola virus. Only standard PPE gear, consisting of a regular fabric medical gown, goggles, and N95 or N100 oxygen masks are available, and these are useless against the disease, the forum of medical doctors, firefighters and other emergency-response workers were told. The N95 can only last for four hours, according to doctors, while the N100 for 24 hours.

"If the Government doesn't supply us with these things, who is going out to work?" asked one doctor from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the UHWI, sparking murmurs among the gathering.

The doctor hinted at the possibility of an outbreak, suggesting that there are students from countries affected by the virus currently at the University of the West Indies, and frowned on the Government's lacklustre approach in preparing for the disease, which has presented itself in the United States.

"We don't have any money in Jamaica, but if it comes, I don't know how many of us are going to be willing to come to work. We in ICU are not going to deal with it. I'm not going to expose my doctors and nurses to that," he continued. "So Accident and Emergency will have to decide what they are going to do with the first one (case)."


The concerns followed a presentation from a Dr Celeste Maycock at the UHWI, who warned emergency services workers to adequately prepare themselves against the transmission of bodily fluids from infected persons. She said absolute care must be taken to prevent contamination while such persons are being transported in ambulances as well as when they are being treated in hospital.

She said that doctors should look for signs, including persons coming in with fevers higher than 38.6Celsius, flu-like symptoms, and whether the patients are from countries affected by the dreaded illness. Measures should be taken to quarantine such individuals, Maycock said.

"But where will we quarantine them? We don't even have the equipment," said another doctor. "[Health Minister] Fenton Ferguson won't be here to buy them (gear) when Ebola comes here. We are going to hear that he is not on the island," she added, to snickers from the gathering.


Further uproar came when a member of the Jamaica Fire Brigade informed the gathering that there were only 50 hazard-material suits on the island, including those available to the Jamaica Fire Brigade and the Jamaica Defence Force. This would not be enough for all the medical staff members at the UHWI who would have to come into contact with infected persons, offered another doctor.

Overseas, these equipment, as well as bedsheets and other intravenous resources are discarded after being used on an Ebola patient. Deceased persons should also be wrapped in two specially made body bags and buried immediately without an autopsy.

"I'm not sure how that would work. You can imagine throwing away every linen used by an affected person. I don't know how practical that would be in Jamaica," said Maycock.

In the meantime, Ryan Rufus, chief coordinator of prehospital emergency medical services, said the least persons could do was to arm themselves with the available resources.

"At least we can start with the available stuff that are in place. Start with the standard PPE and work our way up. As it stands now, there is nothing in place," he said.