Ebola nurses improvise gear

Monrovia - Nurses on an Ebola ward in Liberia must cut up old overalls to serve as makeshift head-coverings to protect themselves from infection, despite international promises of more equipment, a health worker said on Thursday.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed 1 900 people, and officials warn that time is running out to control it. Nigeria, where previously the outbreak had seemed relatively contained, is racing on Thursday to track down people who may have been exposed to the disease in recent weeks.

A severe lack of protective gear for health workers, who are at high risk of infection because of their close contact with the sick, is a major obstacle to stopping the outbreak.

Health workers account for about 10% of the deaths so far. Much of the gear must be destroyed after use, so wards need a constant flow of equipment.

One nurse at a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, said she and her colleagues have resorted to cutting up their old uniforms and tying them on their heads. They cut holes in the fabric, so they can see, said the nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to talk to the media.

"It is really pathetic," she said. "We are not equipped to face the situation."

With no goggles to protect them, their eyes burn from the fumes of chlorine used to disinfect the ward, the nurse said.

David and Nancy Writebol, American missionaries who worked at another hospital in Liberia, echoed those concerns, speaking to The Associated Press in North Carolina. They said doctors and nurses are overwhelmed by a surge of patients and there aren't enough hazard suits to keep them safe.

Health care workers can go through thousands of the suits a week, David Writebol said, and the suspension of flights to the region by many airlines is making it hard to get enough gear in.

Clinic overrun

Liberia has been hardest hit by the current outbreak, with the largest number of cases and deaths. Doctors Without Borders, which is running several Ebola treatment centres, said last week that its clinic in Monrovia is overrun with patients and doctors are no longer able to provide intravenous treatments.

Three American health care workers have been sickened with Ebola while working in Liberia. Nancy Writebol and Dr Kent Brantly were flown back to the US to be treated and have since recovered, while the third only recently tested positive for the disease.

The Liberian nurse, meanwhile, said that she and her colleagues live every day with the fear that they'll become infected.

"When you go through this and return home, you lie in bed asking yourself: I am still safe? Or I have contracted the disease?" she said.

International organisations have called for more equipment to be brought in, saying it's hard to persuade more health care workers to respond to the outbreak without promising them they'll be protected.

Meanwhile, health officials are monitoring more than 200 people on Thursday who may have been exposed to Ebola in southern Nigeria and are working non-stop to find more people at risk.

Authorities had been cautiously optimistic that they would be able to keep Nigeria's outbreak relatively small since the sick Liberian-American who brought the disease to Nigeria by plane was quickly isolated.

But then last month a person he had come into contact with escaped surveillance and fled to the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt. The contact infected a doctor, who, in turn, exposed dozens of people to the disease when he continued treating patients after he began having Ebola symptoms, the World Health Organization said.

Of the 200 people identified as having been exposed to the ill doctor, WHO said about 60 are considered at a high risk of getting Ebola.

Officials are also urgently tracking down more contacts and educating residents about the disease, said Dr Sampson Parker, the health commissioner for Rivers State, where Port Harcourt is located.

Rumour, fear and confusion about Ebola, which is more typically found in Central Africa, have helped to fuel its spread. Some people hide their symptoms or avoid medical care, seeing hospitals as places where people simply go to die.

- AP
Raymond Butler 2014-09-05 07:21:36 AM
This may sound racist but I assure everyone it's not but if you compare how many people of diffrent races contract ebola vs how many of those then survive their ebola exposure then it seems that westerners have a much better survival rate than the Africans
Charles Komane 2014-09-05 07:29:28 AM
Cant someone manufacture that, its a small thing, government is week. They want america to send for free.
Sbongile Bosh Mlalandle 2014-09-05 07:45:53 AM
If ths is how earth ppl respond 2 an unknwn threat. I jst cnt wait 2 c hw they wl react whn an alien invasion real take place. Even thz sw cald developd countries r nowhr 2 be found if the problm isnt involving thm. They hav money and material 2 be bombing muslim extremist. Bt lil wil 2 help contain a viral attack that they may hav an interest 2 be using it as a biological ware agant.
Thabani Hlengwa 2014-09-05 08:06:11 AM
Be warned! Go and attend South Africa and Nigeria game at your own risk!
Humbelani Tshipandu 2014-09-05 08:53:25 AM
and another trouble for us AFRICA NS is these beliefs of traditions and culture things,because some of them sees the hospistals as a place where they going to die,so when is ebola going to end is still a misery
SunshinyDay 2014-09-05 09:23:38 AM
These are the real hero's. Why aren't fund pouring in for these nurses to get proper protective clothing? Where can we donate? It's a crying shame that you get people who are making millions for doing nothing worthy.
Joseph Tettey 2014-09-08 10:36:46 AM
You would not be surprise to see Ellen charter a private plane to a function overseas whilst the Nation cries for help.That is the State of the Nation in Africa. Do not say it is racist but that is how African Governments operate.Mugabe returns to Zimbabwe from China to warn nobody plays with his family but he can kill members of other families like the 30 000 killed with the help of North Korean forces.He still hope to go 'Heaven' and not regretted that terrible action.Is this not the truth?