Newsweek: Twenty-First Century Professionals

PARN Global News Article - 2 January 2015

Newsweek: Twenty-First Century Professionals

Testing for Ebola

In this week's column, Biomedical Research Scientist & member of the Institute for Biomedical Science Marie Blackman-Northwood discusses her experience tackling the Ebola crisis.

“I was meant to go for the Cholera project, but the Tuesday 10 o’clock news announced all British Airways flights to Sierra Leone were cancelled. A few weeks later, I was forwarded the request from Public Health England to work on the Ebola project.’

Marie Blackman-Northwood, a member of the Institute for Biomedical Science, usually works at Addenbrooke’s Public Health and Clinical Microbiology Laboratory in Cambridge. The Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone is a world away from Marie’s everyday work.

‘We had an empty room still being worked on when we arrived at the Centre. We had to think about where equipment should be positioned and what systems to implement. If the electricity goes out, what do you do? Databases have gone down and we’ve lost information, but we have back back-up paper copies.’

‘When we receive a sample in the hospital in the UK it usually just states ‘query infection’. We could be looking at anything. Here, all samples are suspected Ebola so we have strict criteria for handling them. We work in a very contained manner to prevent injury or spreading it to ourselves, but we also need to protect the sample: we need to get a good result from it. We wear our protective equipment and work within an instrument called an ‘Isolator’, a unit with gloves.’

Recently NHS staff who volunteered to go out to Sierra Leone were called heroes by the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening. Marie’s reaction: ‘It’s nice to be seen as a hero but I’m not a hero, simply someone trying to be humane and help.’

She added: ‘It’s about being resourceful in very difficult circumstances. That, for me, is the excitement of Microbiology, as well as a passion for giving back.’

Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN

First appeared in Newsweek, edn. 26 December 2014

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