Scholarly article on topic 'The predicament of patients with suspected Ebola – Authors' reply'

The predicament of patients with suspected Ebola – Authors' reply Academic research paper on "History and archaeology"

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The Lancet Global Health
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Academic research paper on topic "The predicament of patients with suspected Ebola – Authors' reply"

The predicament of patients with suspected Ebola

Authors' reply

We thank Thomas Mayrhofer and colleagues for offering their threshold model as an explanation for patients' aversion to accessing Ebola facilities during the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa. We agree that this threshold model provides a rational and more elegant explanation of patients' avoidance of ill-equipped and poorly sanitised holding centres; however, such an explanation was not the goal of our Comment.1 Instead, we aimed to produce a reductio ad absurdum2 of rationalist approaches to understanding behaviour during the Ebola outbreak. Our argument was that these approaches reproduce an ideology of individualism that maps poorly onto our understanding of care seeking during the outbreak. By hypostasisi ng individual autonomy and assuming perfect information, rationalist paradigms perniciously normalise the perception that clinical outcomes are a result of patient choice, rather than a result of intentional underdevelopment of health systems3 coupled with the historical prioritisation by colonial medicine and its legacies (including contemporary humanitarian aid) of containment by isolation.4 Hence the absurdity of our suggestion that a rational decision for patients with Ebola virus disease might be to deliberately infect themselves with malaria, which Robert Colebunders and colleagues correctly recognise as facetious. Furthermore, our ironic reflections on terms such as "rational" and "superspreader" are a call to recognise and interrogate the categories of thought that are instilled by our training as scientists, clinicians, and public health professionals.5

Colebunders and Felicity Fitzgerald and their colleagues also question whether we overestimate the


potential for nosocomial Ebola virus transmission. In contrast with the low nosocomial transmission rates that they cite in Freetown, our experience in rural areas—which are so much more poorly resourced than the capital that they are deemed internal colonies6—revealed, at times, much less effective infection prevention and control than in the metropole. For example, upon arrival at a rural district hospital in November, 2014, we entered wards crowded with corpses, pools of infectious vomit and excreta, and large amounts of contaminated personal protective equipment. Patients with suspected Ebola virus disease were admitted on clinical grounds because samples, if they were taken, took several days until results were attained; nine (100%) of nine nurses working there contracted Ebola virus disease. Additionally, it was not uncommon for several patients with suspected Ebola virus disease who were vomiting and had diarrhoea to be transported over great distances in a single ambulance. Thus, for the absurdist exercise presented in our Comment, we did not feel that it was far-fetched to posit that a quarter of negative individuals exposed to a similar field of risk could have become infected.

Even so, the purpose of our Comment was to counter the notion that is useful to think in terms of "Ebola suspects" and their ostensible options, while reminding us to question whether the fetishisation of isolation over treatment was "an institutionalized form of non-assistance" that resulted in "a high number of presumably avoidable deaths".7 As such, our suggestion of the term "PPE [personal protective equipment]-bereft care-nexus" refers to a pragmatic re-description8 of the "Ebola suspect", in an attempt to provide a more adequate vocabulary for outbreak containment by decolonising humanitarian illusions of bounded subjects.9 To extend the re-description even further,

we suggest viewing Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia as one large West Africa Ebola Holding Unit (WAEHU) for high-income and upper-middle-income countries around the world, with the implication that the focus on local statistics—including the often cited 70% mortality rate of Ebola virus disease10—makes it difficult to distinguish the outbreak from its origins in transnational relations of inequality.11 A 0% case-fatality ratio in repatriated white American clinicians was achieved outside the WAEHU, which should remind us that such re-descriptions of outbreaks are necessary if we want to integrate power12 into an understanding of disease dynamics.

We declare no competing interests.

Copyright © The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an Open Access article under the CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.

*Eugene T Richardson, Mosoka P Fallah,J Daniel Kelly, Mohamed Bailor Barrie

Division of Global Health Equity, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA (ETR); Partners In Health, Freetown, Sierra Leone (ETR, JDK, MBB); Community-Based Initiative, Ministry of Health, Monrovia, Liberia (MPF); PREVAIL-III Study, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Monrovia, Liberia (MPF); A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine, University of Liberia, Monrovia, Liberia (MPF); and UCSF School of Medicine, San Francisco, CA, USA (JDK)

1 Richardson ET, Barrie MB, Nutt CT, et al. The Ebola suspect's dilemma.

Lancet Glob Health 2017; 5: e254-56.

2 Aristotle. Prior analytics. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1989.

3 Rodney W. How Europe underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1972.

4 Greene J, Basilico MT, Kim H, Farmer P. Colonial medicine and its legacies. In: Farmer P, Kleinman A, Kim J, Basilico M, eds. Reimagining global health: an introduction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

5 Good BJ. Medicine, rationality and experience: an anthropological perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

6 Zack-Williams B. Diamond mining and underdevelopment in Sierra Leone—1930/1980. Africa Development 1990; 15: 95-117.

7 Ebola: a challenge to our humanitarian identity. A letter to the MSF movement. December, 2014 . terre/2015/02/03/parfois-le-traitement-symptomatique-a-ete-neglige-voire-oublie_1194960 (accessed April 1, 2017). Vol 5 July 2017


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