Another nurse has died of Ebola. Did you know the outbreak was still active in Sierra Leone? The International Medical Corps (IMC) has acknowledge the death of one of its nurses in the West African nation. It is a tragedy, but this what I expected. I was in Liberia, West Africa as an Ebola nurse at Ebola Treatment Unit run by AmeriCares and I had the opportunity to train with the IMC nurses at their Bong County Ebola Treatment Unit.
While working with AmeriCares and training with IMC in Liberia, I quickly realized that safety was not a consideration by these and other organizations. It is just not part of their DNA. Fundraising to pay six figure salaries is most certainly part of their DNA, but keeping their medical staff safe was not part of the corporate culture of these multi-million dollar NGOs.
These organizations certainly met the basic minimum standards that they were required to meet. They did not send staff into treatment units without any safety gear. However, these organizations found it was more cost effective to utilize the bare minimum standards rather than spend more money to improve safety. For example, despite the fact that these organizations received millions of dollars from USAID to staff and purchase medical supplies for the Ebola Treatment Units, they routinely used the cheapest supplies. In a more detailed example, even though safety needles (IV needles or medication syringes that automatically cover the contaminated needle) were available to all organizations working with Ebola, I personally witnessed that IMC and AmeriCares chose not to purchase these needles and instead decided to save money and purchase needles that have no safety features at all.
On my first day in the Ebola ward, I found myself starting an IV on an Ebola patient, in a dark room and with limited viability from my goggles. When I was finished, I realized there was no sharps container in the room. So I had to take an Ebola contaminated needle and walk it out of the room and down a hallway to the sharps container. In the decreased visibility, I could have easily stuck myself or another healthcare worker with the contaminated sharp. To date, only one person has ever survived an Ebola needle stick injury.
This was just one example of many obvious dangers that the NGOs ignored, not because they were unaware, but because they did not care. Simply put, these organizations do not have a culture of safety. It is about time change was made. It was about time they started valuing the safety of the medical staff as much as they value their six figure salaries.
Rene Steinhauer is a MSN Grad student and author of Saving Jimani