Red Cross aid worker Marshall Tuck explains what it's like to be a ward nurse in an Ebola treatment facility.
The Red Cross Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone is unlike any hospital environment I have ever experienced.
Its layout is carefully designed to protect staff and patients by minimising the risk of contamination and the spread of Ebola. Orange plastic construction fencing controls my movement around the facility. It defines and separates high-risk, low-risk and no-risk areas. Patient stay on one side of the fencing and staff only enter that side if they are wearing personal protective equipment. Nothing worn, eaten or used by patients leaves the high-risk area: it is ultimately burnt in an incinerator.
On entry to the centre, patients are triaged according to the symptoms they are experiencing. Fever is the major symptom for assessment but this is imperfect as fever alone doesn't indicate Ebola. It may suggest malaria, or even an upper respiratory tract infection.
This is a major difficulty for health workers in other health facilities in Sierra Leone - they don't know what the next patient may be sick with. Ironically, working in the Ebola Treatment Centre, I was safer than these doctors and nurses. I knew the patients I was caring for had Ebola and I had the equipment to protect myself at my disposal.
We also collect information on risk factors. At admission, patients are asked about their contact with anyone who has been sick or died from Ebola, and whether they have attended a funeral or eaten bush meat. However patients are scared, and getting this information at their triage interview is challenging. It is not until they are admitted into the facility that they open up and divulge their grandparents, parents, siblings, relatives or neighbours have died with Ebola. In these instances human fears and insecurities are raw and override good reasoning.
For all patients, nursing care is given without judgment. The most we can offer is supportive care, the provision of regular nutritious food and fluid intake for those that survive.
Yet for survivors, the next stage is just as difficult as overcoming Ebola. They then have to return to their families and communities, to show everyone they pose no further risk, and to encourage others to seek care at the facility from which they have come.
Your donation can save more lives in this Ebola outbreak. Please help.