Ebola outbreak calls for coordinated response

What would staff do if someone came into the hospital with a high fever and bleeding nose who had just come back from west Africa?

Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital played host last weekend for the second time to the two-day CARE (comprehensive approach to rural emergencies) course put on by the Rural Coordination Center of BC.

It appeared to be a fun and yet challenging opportunity for doctors, nurses and paramedics from Clearwater and other small communities to hone their skills in dealing with unusual emergencies without the resources of a big-city hospital to back them up.

Although we didn’t get to see all the scenarios being acted out, one that did seem to be missing was how to deal with rare but serious diseases.

For example, what would staff do if someone came into the hospital with a high fever and bleeding nose who had just come back from west Africa?

We tend to think that the ongoing and expanding Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, while regrettable, is something that we don’t really need to worry about.

We should remember that, up until this most recent outbreak, it was widely believed that Ebola was self-limiting and confined to central Africa.

Now it is in west Africa and, if the present rate of exponential growth continues, could infect more than one million people in the next few months.

The disease is primarily spread by shoddy healthcare practices, especially the use of dirty needles for injections.

Before we get too complacent, we should remember that tens of thousands of people die every year in North America from diseases picked up in hospital – and that is without Ebola.

If the epidemic in west Africa continues to grow, the few individuals who have come back to this continent with the disease could become hundreds and affect dozens of hospitals.

All of us live on the same planet. Sooner or later, what affects people on the other side of the world will come and affect us here.

Canada is doing much to help out in the present crisis, but should do more.

 

In the longer term, we need to address the root causes of the epidemic, which are poverty and lack of education.