Ebola - a Case Study for Dealing With Infectious Diseases

30 April 2015: The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the largest Ebola outbreak in history, having infected approximately 24 000 people and killing around 10 000 of those infected with the virus. Among the victims of this deadly disease were several healthcare workers who were deployed to the disease stricken countries in order to assist with efforts to contain the virus. The Ebola outbreak has become a perfect case study on why more focus has to be placed on how the medical profession deals with infectious diseases and prioritises patient safety.

This is according to Colonel Theo Ligthelm, Senior Staff Officer Military Health Operations, South African Military Health Service and speaker at the Public Health Conference set to be held as part of the Africa Health Exhibition & Congress 2015, who says that the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa serves as a good case study for healthcare workers around the world on how to most effectively ensure patient safety when dealing with highly infectious diseases.

"Healthcare workers treating patients with infectious diseases need extensive training, preparedness and structured capabilities to care for these very ill patients without infecting themselves. The healthcare worker has to ensure safety and recovery of the patient while simultaneously ensuring their own protection against the virus," says Ligthelm.

He explains that comprehensive training is vital in the successful execution of healthcare worker safety. "However, all parties involved in the process should be educated on how to mitigate the risk of contracting or spreading the virus. Strict protocols were implemented for health care workers dealing with patients under investigation or patients diagnosed with the Ebola virus. This included following steps of initiating, identifying, isolating and informing others when dealing with these patients."

By following strict procedures the healthcare workers ensured that the patients with the virus were placed in isolation in order to avoid further infections and also safeguard themselves and their colleagues against contracting the virus, points out Ligthelm. "These procedures were critical to ensure that safety of the thousands of aid workers that were deployed across West Africa in effort to combat the disease."

He says the situation in West African could worsen, following an announcement made by The World Health Organisation warning that outbreaks of measles could hit these Ebola-stricken areas and should be countered with rapid mass vaccinations. "The Ebola epidemic disrupted the normal routines of healthcare systems in these countries and many children did not receive their vaccines against polio, measles, meningitis and other diseases. This results in an increased likelihood of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks."

He explains that measles is one of the most transmissible diseases, therefore extensive systems need to be put in place to ensure that the Ebola-areas do not experience another viral outbreak. "Should healthcare workers adhere to strict infection control measures, like in the case of the Ebola epidemic, infectious diseases such as measles can equally be controlled and isolated in order to avoid national, or even global, outbreaks," adds Ligthelm.

Africa Health is supported by South African Nursing Council (SANC), the Alliance of South African Independent Practitioners (ASAIPA), The Council for Health Service Accreditation of Southern Africa (COHSASA) and Diabetes South Africa, as well as international healthcare giants such as Maquet, Draeger, GE Healthcare and Stiegelmeyer. The event, is set to take place from 5th-7th May 2015 at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.