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'Ebola epidemic was wake-up call'

Updated: 2015-03-20 07:49
By Agencies in Vancouver (China Daily)

Bill Gates opened a mock Ebola field hospital at the prestigious TED Conference on Wednesday as part of a call to be battle-ready for a deadly global epidemic.

The Microsoft software mogul and philanthropist called for "germ games not war games" to train response forces and reveal holes in defenses.

"The Ebola epidemic was a wake-up call to get ready," Gates said during a presentation at TED in Vancouver.

"There is no need to panic - we don't need to horde cans and spaghetti in the basement - but we should get going."

Sierra Leone said on Thursday it will confine around 2.5 million people to their homes across the capital and in the north in a three-day shutdown aimed at stemming the Ebola epidemic.

The worst-ever outbreak of the virus has claimed almost 3,700 lives in the impoverished west African nation, one of three countries that have seen their economies wrecked and healthcare systems obliterated in the crisis.

A room off a hallway was transformed into an Ebola station where TED attendees got a taste of meticulous and tedious precautions healthcare workers must use to prevent infection.

Playing the part of an Ebola-fighting doctor involved wriggling into oversized rubber boots and yellow bodysuits. Rubber gloves were layered over hands, sealing tightly at sleeve cuffs. Heads and faces were covered with hoods, goggles and breathing masks.

Under it all went a new cooling vest developed by the Gates Foundation. The vest was lined with ice packs to offset stifling heat inside suits.

Luanne Freer, a doctor who worked with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone with nonprofit Partners in Health, recalled sweating so much into her face mask that "it was like waterboarding".

Freer and other doctors who have spent time on the battle lines against deadly epidemics led attendees through simple exercises in a tented area where, in a real-life setting, people would have been fighting for their lives.

Aid workers tend to be so emotionally stressed by the agony of patients and overheated from being sealed in suits that they want to strip down quickly, according to Freer.

In that haste, careless moves can turn doctors into patients.

Gates started his talk by wheeling on stage two large black cans packed with water, food and other supplies for hunkering down and surviving missile strikes.

"When I was a kid, we worried about nuclear war and had cans like this in our basement," Gates said.

He reasoned that the new global threat is "microbes not missiles" and that a trained and prepared army of epidemic fighters should be ready for rapid deployment in coordination with military forces.

AFP - Reuters

 'Ebola epidemic was wake-up call'

Lisa Kelley experiences what it is like to be a healthcare worker suited up to fight an epidemic at an Ebola field hospital set up by the Gates Foundation at the prestigious TED Conference in Vancouver on Wednesday.  Glenn Chapman / AFP


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