In the midst of the crisis in West Africa, Brisbane doctor Jenny Stedmon has put her hand up to join the ranks in the war against Ebola.
She leaves today for Sierra Leone, where she’ll stay for a month, followed by up to three weeks of quarantine upon returning to Australia.
This isn’t the first time the Director of Anaesthetics at Redland Hospital has volunteered her services in a crisis. “Well, I’ve worked with Red Cross on a number of occasions, in different areas of the world, usually in war zones in the surgical team. In November last year I was in the Philippines for the Typhoon response working as part of the surgical team. When I saw that there was a huge issue with the Ebola virus, the Red Cross put out requests for a response for volunteers, for healthcare workers and doctors, and I volunteered.”
Currently the World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged West Africa’s Ebola Epidemic as the deadliest strand since its discovery four decades ago, having claimed 1,229 lives across Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. It is suspected that a further 2,240 people are currently infected by the disease.
Just last month, two American missionaries contracted the disease whilst working in Liberia, but have since been given the all-clear. Jenny is prepared for the worst in this situation, and will practice her precautionary methods as best she can. “I’m hoping that I can treat patients in the best way possible, and as much as I can, I will use personal protective equipment in dealing with acutely ill patients.”
Not only does she face the looming potential of becoming infected, Jenny will also be exposed to extreme weather conditions, strenuous working conditions and long hours. This, however, doesn’t seem to affect her outlook. “That is part of medicine,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m looking forward to doing what I can to help.”
With the current fatality rate nearing 90 per cent, Jenny remains positive in her predicted outcome for the epidemic. “This is my personal opinion, not the opinion of the Red Cross, but I feel that it is eminently controllable, although it’s a very serious disease. With proper handling, good education, and with people coming forward quickly and into isolation quickly, I think there’s a long term prospect. There’s a lot of research going on, not only with the drug that’s being used, but also with the means of vaccinating patients. I think the outlook is quite hopeful.”
Although Dr Stedmon is optimistic about the situation in West Africa, she insists Australia must be cautious. “I think all countries need to formulate some kind of national response to this, and indeed that is what the World Health Organisation is promoting. I think the risk is relatively small but we would be foolish to ignore it, and people being aware of Ebola is probably a strong way forward.”