The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa is one of the largest outbreaks in history and has claimed 1,145 lives in just 5 months. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern.

The disease is transmissible through direct contact with broken skin, mucous membranes and secretions/fluids of an infected person or through direct contact with materials and surfaces that have been contaminated by the infected person. As a result the WHO is extremely concerned at the high numbers of workers being exposed to the virus. These groups include health care workers and other workers in health settings, including laboratories, burial sites, cleaners and disinfectors, as well as hunters, animal welfare and wildlife workers.

According to the WHO the number of health-care workers who have been infected is unprecedented. To date, nearly 170 health-care workers have been infected, and more than 80 have died.

The infections and deaths of health-care workers have three major consequences. First, they diminish one of the most important assets for the response to any outbreak. Second, they can lead to the closure of hospitals and isolation wards, especially when staff refuse to come to work. Third, they drive fear, already very high, to new extremes.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the main line of defense for these workers because transmission is through direct contact. Therefore, the provision of sufficient PPE and the appropriate use of PPE is essential in preventing the spread to groups exposed due to their occupation.

The WHO is concerned that inadequate PPE is being used by those coming in to contact with the virus. Worrying reports have surfaced indicating attitudes towards its use are also inadequate, with doctors at a private hospital in Lagos reportedly being told to purchase their own PPE. Prices of the equipment have also been rising, leaving many feeling worried that the need for PPE is being used as an opportunity to cash in.

This issue reinforces the important role education and training  play in ensuring workers are informed on how best to carry out their duties without exposing themselves to the risk of contracting the virus.



‘INT – Current ebola outbreak a concern for local health care workers and others involved with patients’ 19 August, 2014.