Overcoming COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind. When will things go back to normal? How could this have happened? What can we do to prevent future outbreaks from occurring? This is the first time since the 1918 Spanish Flu that the U.S. has experienced a pandemic of this proportion. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many other countries around the world. You may recall the Ebola outbreak of 2014 in West Africa. The stories of schools being shut down, not being able to be with loved ones that were sick, the isolation required to prevent the spread all ring true to what we are experiencing today.
Thankfully, we can also look back to inspirational stories from this time that can help give us hope for how we can innovate to address COVID-19. One organization in particular, ALIMA, The Alliance for International Medical Action, was created to promote innovation in the global medical community and served as a beacon of hope during the Ebola outbreak. ALIMA is an alliance of African doctors who are transforming humanitarian medicine to provide quality care to the most vulnerable people in emergencies. Founded in 2009, ALIMA has treated more than 5 million patients, conducted 56 programs in 14 countries, and launched some 30 research projects focusing on malnutrition, malaria, Ebola and surgery.
ALIMA pools the expertise of international aid workers, national medical organizations and global research institutions to provide quality medical care to people in need and enact cutting-edge research and innovation to improve humanitarian medicine.
Infectious diseases are responsible for nearly 9 million deaths around the world each year. Additionally, infectious diseases cause 60% of all childhood deaths in Africa, yet they are the subject of only 2% of medical research trials worldwide. Even less research is devoted to improving emergency humanitarian medicine.
ALIMA is dedicated to meeting humanitarian challenges with new ideas and solutions that put people first – and they demonstrated that commitment recently in the face of the Ebola crisis.
Lessons learned from the Ebola crisis
Every day, health care workers put themselves in danger on the front lines, where they are at risk of contracting infectious diseases from contact with patients or handling specimens. These infections can be spread through blood and bodily fluids or through airborne or respiratory droplet routes. Therefore, healthcare workers commonly wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep themselves safe.
During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, health care workers in West Africa reported that some people could only wear their PPE for 40 minutes at a time because of high temperatures and humid conditions. Even in the United States, where management of patients with Ebola took place in air-conditioned environments, uncomfortable PPE remains a common complaint. This makes it difficult for health care workers to provide the best care to patients. Additionally, because the Ebola virus is so highly contagious, patients are often quarantined from their family and friends for weeks on end. The separation can cause loneliness and emotional challenges that hinder their recovery process.
Recognizing that something needed to change, ALIMA developed the CUBE – an innovative tool that transforms the care of patients. A self-contained, Biosecure Emergency Care Unit for Outbreaks, the CUBE allows for more individualized, rapid and secure care for patients suffering from viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola, and an improved and safer treatment experience for health workers. The CUBE improves the quality of care to patients and decreases the risk of exposure to contaminated fluids for staff. With its transparent walls and external arm entry points, medical teams can comfortably ensure continuous monitoring of an infected patient and administer medications from the outside.
Perhaps even more importantly, however, the CUBE has improved the treatment experience for patients and their families. They are able to remain in contact with their loved ones, boosting overall mental and emotional well-being.
CUBEs are currently being used at ALIMA’s Ebola Treatment Centers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and have contributed to lowering the mortality rate to less than 35%.
"Before the creation of the CUBE, Ebola patients had to stay alone, without medical supervision, without his family. The situation was difficult for patients, health workers, families and communities. Thanks to the CUBE, the patient can spend time with his family. He can keep in touch with his loved ones and his community. The CUBE is changing lives of Ebola patients" - Dr. Richard Kojan, president of ALIMA
Others have also taken note of ALIMA’s impressive innovation. The organization was awarded the Game Changing Innovator Award for the CUBE, presented by Bill Gates, in November 2019:
Giving back while staying at home
The CUBE has been a revolutionary invention for treatment of Ebola, but ALIMA is also working to battle COVID-19. With that in mind, if you hold a leadership position at a corporation, we ask you – what is the overall mood of your office? Employees are likely feeling overwhelmed and nervous about their loved ones. Everyone may be working remotely, isolated at home alone or in close quarters with family. It can be a lot to handle, and playing the waiting game during something as serious as a pandemic can make people feel helpless. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Just as ALIMA boosted morale for Ebola patients, they can do the same with your employees. How?
- Inject positivity. The negativity in the news can be hard to bear, so it’s good to take a break and focus on the good. Share our story of ALIMA’s CUBE or information about their response to COVID-19 with your employees.
- Keep minds active. It’s important for employees to break up the day and think about something else. Consider working with ALIMA to set up a webinar to go over what they do – they could tell you more about the CUBE or other projects, or dive into their COVID-19 response efforts. Your employees may be feeling distanced from their colleagues, so arrange a virtual meeting afterward to discuss all that you learned and catch up with each other. Platforms like Zoom, Skype for Business and Google Hangouts make this easy to arrange.
- Give your employees an opportunity to do something. Combat that feeling of helplessness in your employees and let them know that there ARE things they can do – even while practicing social distancing. Send out a communication about ALIMA’s work and how they are helping health care workers as they battle COVID-19 and other diseases. Encourage people to support their efforts.
Contact us to learn more about making ALIMA part of your employee engagement program during this time of social distancing.
As COVID-19 spreads and the world around us continues to change before our eyes, it’s comforting to know that organizations like ALIMA exist. Their innovations help keep health care workers and vulnerable people around the world safer.