While its not saturating the headlines as it was just months ago, Ebola is still a threat to global health. There are a number of challenges that come with fighting the deadly virus, ranging from lacking advances in drug treatments to social issues that affect its spread and control.
The recent outbreak has been tragic but it’s also given health officials, scientists and doctors a clearer picture of how we can improve the efforts and elements needed to fight Ebola and similar illnesses.
Just one factor in the fight is the suit that healthcare workers wear when treating patients. As doctors and designers looked closer at that form of protection, they found plenty of room for improvement.
Major Flaws To Design Away
There are two significant problems found with the conventional anti-contaminant suit. First, is in how the wearer experiences it. Apart from being uncomfortable, poorly ventilated, and a challenge to move and work in, the standard suits didn’t provide ideal levels of protection.
A zippered front and exposed areas between goggles, face mask, and the suit’s hood make it difficult to minimize exposure, especially during removal. The longer the wearer stays in the suit, the hotter, foggier, and more uncomfortable it becomes.
Suits can typically only be worn for about forty-five minutes at a time, which can be a major hinderance in urgent medical situations.
Considering Inside And Outside
The other issues lie in how a non-healthcare worker experiences an Ebola suit. For patients, their families, and locals living in communities with Ebola clinics, teams of people dressed alike with their faces hidden can add to fear and misconceptions that come with disease outbreaks.
For those who are skeptical of the intentions of healthcare workers while so many around them become ill, a face hidden behind goggles and a mask can seem threatening rather than caring and trustworthy.
Conquering Faults With Creativity
A better Ebola suit design could help address all of these concerns. Tailors, designers, artists, and other professionals are working together to do so. In one approach, LA Occidental College professor and artist Mary Beth Heffernan had the presence of mind to create photo stickers of healthcare workers and place them on the front of the wearer’s suit.
The stickers allow patients to associate healthcare providers with friendly human face rather than just an intimidating mask. Heffernan has been working with clinic professionals to make the photo sticker kits available at treatment sites.
When Technology Meets Needs
A greater challenge is the structure of the suit itself. To improve its wearability and protectiveness, designers of all types have started working with Tyvek and restructuring the suit’s vents, minimizing its components, and the way it’s put on, fastened and removed to make contagion exposure less likely and extend the wear time.
Using a facial shield instead of a mask and goggles makes the wearer more comfortable, visible, and less exposed. Special removal features could also help workers maneuver out of a suit in a single motion rather than having to undress from it with both hands.
Designers have brought a lot of improvements to the table, but there is still a long way to go in matching technology to need, and the key may be better design.
Do you have ideas for improvement in anti-contamination suits and other equipment that could help us more safely respond to health emergencies?