Health Care Protective Gear Lacking in Ebola Outbreak

Shortages of gloves, masks existed in Liberia, Sierra Leone years before latest epidemic

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Health care workers in poor nations often do not have enough protective gear to keep them safe from being infected with blood-borne viruses such as Ebola and HIV, according to a study published online Aug. 8 in Tropical Medicine & International Health.

The Hopkins researchers analyzed data from 399 hospitals in 13 low- and middle-income nations: Afghanistan, Bolivia, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mongolia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Zambia. Overall, only 29 percent of the hospitals in the study always had eye protection for staff, 64 percent always had sterilizing equipment, and 75 percent always had sterile gloves.

Rates varied widely among countries. For example, all hospitals in Bolivia and Nigeria had sterile gloves, compared with one-quarter of hospitals in Afghanistan. None of the countries had 100 percent availability of all the protective items, which are standard in American hospitals. Prevention of HIV infection was the focus of this study, but the Ebola virus is spread in the same way, through direct contact with bodily fluids of infected people or contact with items contaminated with such fluids, the researchers noted.

While the study was conducted before the current Ebola outbreak began in West Africa last spring, its findings are confirmed in statistics released Monday by the World Health Organization (WHO). Roughly 240 of the 2,615 infections reported since March have been doctors and nurses, and 120 of them have died, according to WHO. "Ebola has taken the lives of prominent doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia, depriving these countries not only of experienced and dedicated medical care, but also of inspiring national heroes," the health agency said in a statement. "In many cases, medical staff are at risk because no protective equipment is available -- not even gloves and face masks."

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