Doctors and nurses are finally volunteering to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa after a long period of paralyzing fear in which almost none stepped forward, reports the New York Times. An excerpt:
“As a result, thousands of people will die,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, which treats more patients than any other entity. “I can’t say the exact figure because we don’t know how many unreported cases there are. But thousands for sure.”
Because months went by this summer in which almost no volunteers could be found, and because it takes time to train them and get them to Africa, there remains a yawning gap between the number of medical professionals needed and those in place to do the work. Each 100-bed hospital needs a staff of 400, about 40 of whom are foreign doctors or nurses. Meanwhile, about 600 Ebola cases are being recorded every week, according to the World Health Organization, and that number doubles every three weeks.
“If we had 1,700 staffed beds right now, we could maybe turn the tide,” Dr. Liu said. “When we hear the pledges, we ask for timelines. Some say eight to 10 weeks. They’re going to wake up to a much bigger problem at Christmas.”
The first American troops with orders to build 17 100-bed hospitals are arriving in Liberia now. Other countries, particularly Britain and France, are under pressure to do the same in Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Spotlight on PSI
Newsweek speaks with PSI in a recent article looking at the way that the private sector is working to put an end to malaria. An excerpt:
For the past few years, health economists have batted around ideas about how to incentivize shopkeepers to abide by test results. For example, they’ve considered asking pharmacists to charge a single price for the test and treatment, so that there’s no profit to gain from selling an unnecessary drug. However, this requires regulatory strength that most sub-Saharan countries lack. That’s why many now think that change must come from consumer demand.
The goal is convincing pharmacists that they can get a boost to their reputation by selling tests and referring customers to a hospital if the results are negative. “We’re presenting this [to pharmacists] as a business case: We think there’s a business advantage to providing a higher quality of care,” says Melissa Higbie, the director of programs in Tanzania for Population Services International (PSI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that coordinates “road-shows” where DJs and breakdancers try to spread awareness of proper malaria pill use.
In theory, this all sounds good and right. But it was business as usual at a handful of private clinics I visited one month after the organization’s pilot began. Even when tests came back negative, mothers with sick children usually left carrying malaria pills. This could be because the seller wanted to make a profit. But it could also be because pharmacists hate to turn a sick child away empty-handed. After all, missing a case of malaria could lead to death—kids, lacking immunity, can die from the disease within a week. Mangu says, “It takes a competent physician to convincingly assure a mother to take their child home and wait a few days, to just drink water and take a rest.”
But Jane Miller, senior adviser to malaria prevention and case management at PSI, says it’s too early to despair. “These guys have just been giving out ACTs like they were Smarties for years,” she says. “Change takes time.”
Global Health and Development Beat
World leaders gathered in New York on Saturday for the fourth day of the annual ministerial meeting of the UN General Assembly to address the state of their countries and the world.
The WHO today said it is intensifying its cooperation with a wide range of partners trying to accelerate work on experimental therapies and vaccines as it announced that Ebola has now sickened more than 6,500 and killed more than 3,000.
Normally it takes years to prove a new vaccine is both safe and effective before it can be used in the field. But with hundreds of people dying a day in the worst ever outbreak of Ebola, there is no time to wait.
Perhaps the most important Ebola number right now is 70 percent. That’s the proportion of patients who need to be isolated — in treatment centers or at least in their homes — in order to put a quick end to the Ebola outbreak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
USAID Impact introduces five innovations in contraception that are showing promise.
Health officials are investigating nine cases of muscle weakness or paralysis in Colorado children and whether the culprit might be a virus causing severe respiratory illness across the country.
Reports that Zimbabwe will soon embark on a campaign to encourage parents on HIV treatment to have their children tested as well.
The government of Zimbabwe considers the welfare of people living with disabilities a top priority in its policy initiatives, a Cabinet minister has said.
Buzzing in the Blogs
USAID Administrator Raj Shah discusses President Obama’s recently announced Grand Challenge for Development. An excerpt from the USAID blog:
Every day, courageous men and women are performing critical tasks that save lives and prevent the spread of the virus. Personal protective equipment (PPE)—the suits, masks and gloves the health care worker wears—is their primary protection, but it is also the greatest source of stress. In these hot and uncomfortable suits, health workers must administer to the patients and remove contaminated materials.
Announced at the Global Health Security Summit in Washington, D.C., this Grand Challenge for Development will unite the global community in the quest for ingenious ideas that deliver practical and cost-effective innovations in a matter of months, not years.
We need new ideas to help ensure that treatment sites, communal transport units, and burial sites do not become infection sources. We need new solutions that strengthen the safety and increase the comfort of the suits, from improving fabric design to measuring a health worker’s temperature and heart rate.
We need new ways to simplify clinical processes, including point-of-care diagnostics. And we need new tools that continue to create a safer clinical environment, including improving infection control and waste disposal. Taken together, these innovations will enable health workers to provide better care for those who are suffering.
Together with our international partners, we will translate the expertise and ingenuity of scientists, innovators, engineers, and students from across the globe into real solutions. With your bold thinking and engagement, we can give health workers the tools they need to win this fight.
To get involved, please visit: http://www.usaid.gov/grandchallenges/ebola
8:00 AM Lessons from Leaders: Bill Gates – Politico
9:00 AM – China’s Quest for Safe + Secure Food: Boon for US Business – Wilson Center
12:30 PM – Global Early Childhood Movement from Child Survival to Child Development – Georgetown University
3:00 PM – Innovative Training of Birth Attendants – Wilson Center
9:00 AM – Bangladesh in Focus – Atlantic Council
2:00 PM – Urban Resilience and Institutions: How Local Governments in African Cities can Plan and Respond Better to Climate Change – AU School of International Service
12:00 PM – India’s Achilles Heel: Failure to Deliver Public Services – CGD
12:00 PM – Harnessing the Power of Markets to Tackle Global Poverty: A Conversation with Jacqueline Novogratz – AEI
3:00 PM – From Copenhagen to Paris: Emerging Economies and the Challenges of Climate Change Diplomacy – Georgetown University
By Mark Leon Goldberg and Tom Murphy
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Disclaimer: Opinions presented in this email do not necessarily reflect the views of PSI.