Increased Use of Ebola Survivors Could Turn the Tide In the Fight Against the Epidemic in West Africa

The increased use of Ebola survivors could be the turning point in the fight against the epidemic in West Africa and reducing it. At least two emergency physicians Joshua Epstein and Lauren Sauer from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland are convinced. While hundreds of foreign volunteers are in the affected countries, they emphasize in the journal “Nature” that Ebola survivors, who are most likely immune to the disease number in the several thousands.

In Sierra Leone, as well as in Guinea and Liberia survivors as volunteers are already active on behalf of the UN and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), wrote the researchers in a comment. For example, they cared for children who had contact with infected people, during the incubation period of up to 21 days in which Ebola can show symptoms after infection. One of the advantages is that these people are able to care for and comfort the often severely traumatized girls and boys without having to wear fearsome protective suits and masks. However, it is still unclear if survivors are protected in the long term from further infection.

Urgently needed is a test for the detection of certain markers that indicate immunity, stress the physicians. Ebola survivors are in need of protective gloves, mask and goggles to protect against other widespread diseases such as HIV. This will not only allow direct contact with patients, but it also helps to reduce the extremely physically and strenuous use of protective suits. This would increase the amount of time available for help because of the heat, wearing suits limits working time to about two hours each time.

Ebola survivors could after a short training course not only take care of children, but also patients, and help out with eliminating infectious waste, disinfecting contaminated areas and bringing suspected infected people to hospitals and Ebola centers. This would allow specialized professionals more time to devote to their demanding tasks.

However, a major concern is the threat of stigmatization of helpers, add Epstein and Sauer. More information and educational campaigns are even more important to inform the public. Doctors Without Borders provides survivors with a certificate that confirms that they are cured to address the fears of relatives and neighbors. In some regions, dedicated teams visited locations to educate and inform that population before the return of Ebola survivors.

Doctors Without Borders, Ebola Survivors, Johns Hopkins University, Joshua Epstein, Lauren Sauer, MSF, West Africa, WHO