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Ebola: How is QMUL helping?

Students from Queen Mary and Barts and The London joined up this month to help the fight against Ebola

A new charity called Kick Ebola Out is a student led campaign started in Sierra Leone, raising money to spread knowledge and understanding of the disease in order to minimise its spread. Barts and The London Society MEDSIN recently staged a Kick Ebola Out stunt, to raise awareness of the campaign and how students can get involved. The turnout was impressive, with students from Barts and Queen Mary joined by local doctors and nurses as well as students from other London Universities.

The money raised by the campaign will be spent on visiting communities and families to teach them about the early signs of Ebola, and what to do if they suspect someone is infected. As well as individual visits, the campaign aims to reach the widest possible audience, using radio broadcasts and publications to ensure everyone is armed with the knowledge needed to minimise the spread of the disease. They will also be spending money on Chlorine, one of the few disinfectants known to be effective against Ebola.

Ebola is a viral disease that is spread through close contact with infected human bodily fluids. Once someone has caught Ebola, their symptoms will not begin for 2 to 21 days. In this ‘incubation period’ people are not infectious, but as soon as they start showing even mild symptoms, they are able to pass the disease on to others. Early symptoms are quite vague, including muscle pain, tiredness, headache and sore throat. A sudden fever is the biggest early warning sign, and the sufferer goes on to develop vomiting, diarrhoea and a rash, with both internal and external bleeding. This bleeding gives rise to the red eyes that are seen as characteristic of advanced disease. Not everyone who contracts the illness dies, but the rates remain high due to dehydration and multiple organ failure caused by the bleeding and diarrhoea.

The outbreak in Africa has so far affected Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, with a further few cases in Nigeria and Mali. Only 3 cases have been contracted outside of West Africa. Because Ebola is so contagious, patients need to be cared for in specialist centres, so that other vulnerable patients do not become affected. This is also to protect the staff providing healthcare, who account for a high number of the cases so far. These countries unfortunately do not have the capacity to care for the number of patients affected, with Liberia in particular having over 2,000 too few beds. This means that these patients are sent back out into the community to be cared for by their families, enabling them to spread the disease further.

There are no effective treatments for Ebola at present, although there are clinical trials being fast tracked, so the main focus at present is on preventing people from contracting the disease. Issy Marks, Medsin Barts Co-President, comments, “The Kick Ebola Out campaign is doing a fantastic job at teaching local communities about Ebola in ways that international agencies could never do.”

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