A UNC-Chapel Hill doctor who treated Ebola patients in Guinea this summer worries that the epidemic will go down as horrible milestone in history.
“I’m afraid this epidemic has the real potential to become a generational event,” said Dr. Billy Fischer of UNC’s School of Medicine. “When you think about your life, you think about the world event that shaped that life – whether it’s the assassination of John F. Kennedy, whether it’s the Challenger explosion, whether it’s 9/11. I’m concerned that this Ebola epidemic has the potential to really become a generational event on the scale of these, and I have no doubt that this will absolutely change the face of sub-Saharan Africa if left unchecked.”
Fischer briefed the UNC trustees Thursday on his work with Ebola patients in Guinea for three weeks this summer. He was sent there by the World Health Organization, and he just returned from a few weeks at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. There, he helped a team design a training program for health care providers who will be heading to Africa soon.
Those doctors and nurses are desperately needed, as Ebola cases are increasing exponentially and could reach 200,000 by the end of the year. That’s a conservative estimate, he said. Some predict 1 million by then.
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The answer to stemming the epidemic, he said, is a massive infusion of trained health care workers, protective gear, equipment and mobile hospitals with thousands of beds. Early, aggressive critical care treatment can reduce mortality rates.
That’s what he did in Guinea, but resources were few.
“I had no labs to support what I was doing,” he said.
Fischer said he’d like to go back to Africa, and he’s working on how he might best help. “Talk to my wife,” he said.
People are scared, he said, and “we have to overcome that fear.”
He told the crowd at UNC that his greatest hope is that they look back on his dire prediction and say: “That guy was crazy.”