By Kathleen Masterson, UCSF News
The worst Ebola outbreak in history is not yet over.
While Ebola is no longer dominating headlines and nightly newscasts, global health care workers remain in West Africa fighting the deadly virus and helping communities reeling from the devastation.
More than 9,700 people have died of the disease since the epidemic emerged in December 2013, according to the World Health Organization.
For many on the frontlines, there’s also a bigger opportunity: leveraging the global outcry to improve health system infrastructure and disease surveillance in countries still trying to recover from decades of civil war.
Ebola response volunteers joined leading researchers at a Feb. 26 UC San Francisco town hall meeting to discuss the current state of the outbreak – and the path forward. The UCSF community also took the time to recognize the courageous work by volunteers who worked on the ground in West Africa, as well as those who ensured we were prepared for potential cases at UCSF Medical Center.
“It’s certainly fitting that TIME Magazine named Ebola responders as the persons of the year,” said Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “They certainly should be hailed as heroes, no question about that. So today I’d like to take a moment to recognize and show appreciation for more than 100 local and global UCSF responders to Ebola.”
Despite the containment of Ebola in some countries, volunteer responders are still needed in West Africa.
Sierra Leone and Guinea continue to face new Ebola cases and ongoing struggles with the virus, while the Ebola outbreak in Liberia appears to be contained, said George Rutherford, MD, who serves as the director of the Global Health Sciences Prevention and Public Health Group and co-chair of the Chancellor’s Ebola Task Force.
“As of Feb. 18, 23,350 cases had been reported worldwide,” said Rutherford. “Currently Sierra Leone has substantially more cases than other countries.”
To that end, researchers and clinicians are testing and implementing a new rapid Ebola diagnostic field tool in Sierra Leone.
It’s a simple dipstick that tests a tiny prick of blood from a patient’s finger, giving results within minutes. The tool can be transported to remote clinics across the country, and requires no complex machinery other than refrigeration.
“It’s a game-changer,” said Dan Kelly, MD. ”It will change the way we approach screening and triage with patients, and not just at Ebola treatment units but through all clinics, as well as potentially at schools and other facilities.”
Initial data suggest this dipstick tool is effective in screening for Ebola.
Kelly and responders investigated the point-of-care diagnostic tool in the field and plan to release this final level of validation testing before clinical use. Then, he will begin to evaluate the clinical outcomes, looking to answer such questions as: Does the result from the rapid diagnostic predict survival? Can its clinical use improve mortality rates?
Kelly has been working with Sierra Leonean medical staff to improve health infrastructure since he co-founded the Wellbody Alliance in 2006 with Mohamed Bailor Barrie, MBChB, a Sierra Leonean doctor who is now a global health fellow at Harvard University.
Kelly, who is curently on leave to boost response efforts in Sierra Leone, is one of a dozen UCSF trainees and faculty members to respond to the outbreak in West Africa.
“Given the altruism of our faculty and staff, we have made a conscious decision to facilitate their involvement in providing care to patients in West Africa.” said Rutherford. “UCSF, in contrast to other North American academic medical centers, has been remarkably foresighted about the Ebola.”