Critical Steps: Slowing the Ebola Virus and Restoring Faith in the Medical Community
The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is a human tragedy with a magnitude that we haven’t experienced during our lifetime. According to recently revised numbers, it is now being reported that the death toll from the disease is closer to 15,000, not the 5,000 that some government agencies are reporting. Even worse, the numbers affected by the disease are expected to grow exponentially.
Besides the heartbreaking human loss, there is another victim of the crisis that stands to lose substantially from the outbreak – the medical community. The biggest casualty thus far appears to be the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), although pharmaceutical companies, the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) and the U.S. health system all stand to be viewed differently depending on their handling of the crisis.
However, the crisis isn’t over yet and there may be time for the medical community to redeem itself. Many scientists and doctors are attempting to do this already by working on a cure or at least a solution to the current Ebola crisis. Some of the most promising include the following:
- Harvard University – The scientists at the Wyss Institute have developed a device that could potentially act as a mini spleen. The basic idea is that the device works like a dialysis machine, cleaning the blood of the virus and returning it to the body. However, completion and production of this is still a few years away.
- Northeastern University – Another scientific team is hard at work developing nanotechnology to help prevent the spread of the virus. Already being tested with cancer cells, the “nano stars” they develop would attach to the Ebola virus to prevent it from spreading, and then could be eliminated with infrared light that heats up the particles. This method, too, is a few years away from completion.
- Johnson & Johnson – Scientists at the company have been working on an Ebola vaccine and are expected to begin safety testing in January 2015. If the tests go well, they plan to have full production in place on the virus by the end of next year.
- NewLink Genetics – This company has also been working on a vaccine that was originally developed by the Canadian government. Preliminary safety results are expected in December, with full production expected by the middle of next year.
Even though these are steps in the right direction, there is still much to be accomplished. Here are three more steps the medical community could take to recover the public’s trust:
Come clean – It is important the medical community take responsibility for their actions and any mistakes that may occur along the way. The public is much more willing to put faith in organizations that practice transparency and show signs that they are attempting to work through them.
Communicate effectively – When it comes to communicating with the public, the medical community has, in some situations, not been very effective. The result has been speculation that has led to public apprehension. Effectively communicating with the public the steps being taken to protect people would help to reduce tension and possible distrust.
Share information – I have always believed in the value of intellectual property and the importance of guarding it. However, this is a fight for protection of humanity and exceptions should perhaps be made. Scientists need to be willing to share information more readily with one another regarding potential cures and solutions. The best method for this would be to transfer all of the data onto an electronic laboratory notebook. The benefits of this decision would include increased collaboration and a reduction in the discovery cycle time.
The Ebola situation is a serious and concerning matter. However, collateral losses should not include trust in the medical community. Admitting that mistakes were made and then engaging in proper communication to inform people about the steps being taken to protect them will go a long way in restoring trust. In addition, scientists committed to sharing information through best practice tools, like the Accelrys Notebook, may also help the public to trust the medical community one more. For more information regarding the benefits of the Accelrys Notebook, please visit our website today.