Health-care workers responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa share a common complaint: The suits, masks and gloves meant to shield them from the virus are sweltering, says Dr. Rajiv Shah, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Tuesday in Seattle, Shah will announce a $5 million “grand challenge” to solicit ideas for cooler, more breathable clothing. Several manufacturers, including DuPont and Kimberly-Clark, are already on board with the project, so any new designs can be put into production within weeks or months.
“Obviously, time is everything,” Shah said Monday. “We really need better solutions to protect health-care workers.”
Shah will be in Seattle to participate in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2014 Grand Challenges Meeting. A former top official at the world’s richest philanthropy, Shah instituted a grand- challenges program at USAID modeled on the Gates concept of identifying key problems and funding innovative solutions.
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The effort to develop better protective clothing is the first of several Ebola-related challenges that USAID will issue, Shah said.
Others under consideration include development of tests to quickly diagnose the disease, better disinfectants and incinerators to destroy contaminated material.
Shah said the amount that will be devoted to the entire suite of Ebola challenges hasn’t been determined yet.
USAID has already shipped 130,000 sets of protective clothing to the West African nations affected by Ebola, and has an additional 140,000 sets in the pipeline.
But staff at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who returned from deployments to Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries say the clothing is so heavy that it can be worn only about 40 minutes at a stretch, Shah said.
That means health workers change garments frequently, exposing themselves to the virus and discarding gear that has barely been used.
Health-care workers account for more than 10 percent of those who have been infected with Ebola, Shah said.
Anyone can submit a proposal to the Ebola challenge program through the USAID website: http://www.usaid.gov/grandchallenges/ebola.
Sandi Doughton at: 206-464-2491 or firstname.lastname@example.org