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Ebola - how should nurses be responding?

Posted by on October 28, 2014 at 4:20 PM

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa raises some very curly questions amongst health professionals – nurses in particular. Nurses (and other health care workers) are the most likely to care for Ebola patients and therefore most likely to be exposed to the virus and most likely to contract it. Over 150 health care workers have died from the disease in the current outbreak with infection rates twice this number. The main causative factor is a lack or inadequate use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Of the few cases in the United States, two were nurses who cared for a patient who died from the disease.


Despite these cases among health care workers, effective use of appropriate PPE and good infection control precautions diminishes the risks to virtually nil. Organisational preparation and training in anticipation of any cases in New Zealand is well underway and now would be a good opportunity to hone those PPE skills.


What we have to realise though, is that the risk of any cases of Ebola arriving in New Zealand let alone anyone here contracting it is low. And if it does, nurses will be well prepared to handle it. What we should be considering is how we as a group of health professionals can support those already suffering the effects of the current outbreak. There are already a number of New Zealand nurses who have travelled to West Africa to provide care, and many countries are providing support for failing health care infrastructure as a result of the outbreak. New Zealanders are also at the forefront of efforts to diagnose Ebola early, resulting in earlier treatment and containment.


Nurses should be advocating for our government to step up our international response to the outbreak – what resources have we contributed as a country so far to help prevent the spread of the disease and care for those people suffering from the virus? Just because we are a small country in a remote corner of the South Pacific doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support the international response to Ebola. A small team of government supported, highly skilled health professionals may well be of use in relieving already exhausted health professionals or providing training for locals in the use of PPE. Sanitation and infection prevention are essential. With our new role on the UN Security Council, New Zealand should be at the forefront of the global response to Ebola in order to prevent its spread and relieve the suffering of those in West Africa. Even using agencies such as the Red Cross and UNICEF who are already providing support would give the NZ government and public the opportunity to contribute.


Come on New Zealand, step up!


For further information on Ebola visit here and here.


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