When the Ebola virus took hold in his country of Sierra Leone, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, the leading virologist in West Africa, sprung into action. He established an Ebola ward in the Kenema hospital despite the inherent danger he knew he was facing. The Ebola virus has a fatality rate around 50%, and because it’s spread through bodily fluids, healthcare workers are the most vulnerable to infection.
In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Khan said, “Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for those with the disease. Even with the full kit we put on we’re at risk.”
Not long after that interview, Ebola took the life of Dr. Khan. In the coming months, it took the lives of 36 other health care workers at the Kenema hospital. Since the start of the outbreak, Ebola has affected over 25,000 people.
In her SOCAPtv talk, Wendy Taylor, Director of the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact at USAID, focuses on the use of innovation and the power of crowdsourcing to aid in the Ebola response, particularly in addressing the obstacles presented by the protective suits –the “full kit” worn by healthcare workers like Dr. Khan.
“Doctors told us that these suits become dangerously hot. Your core body temperature rises, sweat starts pouring down your body and literally fills your boots. When they get out of those suits and dump those boots out, sweat pours out of them,” says Taylor.
“Their vision is limited by what they can see out of those little goggles and those goggles fog up often before they even get to their first patient. Then, they have to go through the laborious process of taking that suit off: piece by piece, layer by layer, and that’s where the greatest risk of infection can occur.”
To jumpstart the crowdsourcing efforts, USAID partnered with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Defense to launch Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development, calling on the global community to share pioneering ideas for cost-effective, practical innovations in a matter of months.
Over 1,500 Innovative Ideas
The response was overwhelming.
“We ended up getting over 1,500 different ideas, and had the daunting task of sifting through those ideas in record time,” said Taylor.
Inspired by the challenge, a team at Johns Hopkins University completely redesigned the protective suit, integrating a hood with an anti-fog visor, improving the range of visibility and making it possible for patients to see the facial expressions of their health care workers. The suit was also designed with wicking capabilities and a cooling pack. As a single, integrated design, the suits could be removed faster, more easily, and more safely. This improved suit design will come to market later this year, according to the HUB at Johns Hopkins.
In response to the global Fighting Ebola call, USAID is funding a total of 14 innovative solutions that address key gaps in the Ebola response, including reimagined care setting, healthcare worker tools, changing behavior, ICT, and decontaminants. Check out this infographic for a snapshot overview of the innovations, and visit ebolagrandchallenge.net to learn more.