A Grand Challenge to Help Health Care Workers Fight Ebola

Health care workers put on personal protective equipment (PPE) before going into the hot zone at Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia on Sept. 22 2014. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Health care workers put on personal protective equipment (PPE) before going into the hot zone at Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia on Sept. 22 2014. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Today, West Africa faces the largest Ebola epidemic in history. Markets are empty. Schools are closed. Friends greet each other from a distance. As President Obama said yesterday at the United Nations:

Ebola is a horrific disease. It’s wiping out entire families. It has turned simple acts of love and comfort and kindness — like holding a sick friend’s hand, or embracing a dying child — into potentially fatal acts. If ever there were a public health emergency deserving an urgent, strong and coordinated international response, this is it.

From Guinea to Liberia to Sierra Leone, the alarm has been sounded, and United States is mobilizing a global response. We know how to stop this epidemic, but it will take ingenuity, speed, and cooperation. That is why President Obama announced a new Grand Challenge for Development to generate pioneering solutions that help health care workers provide better care in the midst of the epidemic.

I’m pleased to announce a new effort to help health workers respond to diseases like Ebola. As many of you know firsthand, the protective gear that health workers wear can get incredibly hot, especially in humid environments. So today, we’re issuing a challenge to the inventors and entrepreneurs and businesses of the world to design better protective solutions for our health workers… And our goal is to get them to the field in a matter of months, to help the people working in West Africa right now. We can do this.

Every day, courageous men and women are performing critical tasks that save lives and prevent the spread of the virus. Personal protective equipment (PPE)—the suits, masks and gloves the health care worker wears—is their primary protection, but it is also the greatest source of stress. In these hot and uncomfortable suits, health workers must administer to the patients and remove contaminated materials. 

Health workers in personal protective equipment (PPE) wait to enter the hot zone at Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia on Sept 22. 2014. PPE is their primary protection, but it is also the greatest source of stress. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Health workers in personal protective equipment (PPE) wait to enter the hot zone at Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia on Sept 22. 2014. PPE is their primary protection, but it is also the greatest source of stress. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Announced at the Global Health Security Summit in Washington, D.C., this Grand Challenge for Development will unite the global community in the quest for ingenious ideas that deliver practical and cost-effective innovations in a matter of months, not years.

We need new ideas to help ensure that treatment sites, communal transport units, and burial sites do not become infection sources. We need new solutions that strengthen the safety and increase the comfort of the suits, from improving fabric design to measuring a health worker’s temperature and heart rate.

We need new ways to simplify clinical processes, including point-of-care diagnostics. And we need new tools that continue to create a safer clinical environment, including improving infection control and waste disposal. Taken together, these innovations will enable health workers to provide better care for those who are suffering.

Together with our international partners, we will translate the expertise and ingenuity of scientists, innovators, engineers, and students from across the globe into real solutions. With your bold thinking and engagement, we can give health workers the tools they need to win this fight.

To get involved, please visit: http://www.usaid.gov/grandchallenges/ebola

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Rajiv Shah is USAID Administrator. He tweets from @rajshah