With a mortality rate which currently sits at around 70 per cent, Ebola has claimed more than 3,000 lives throughout West Africa in recent months and the situation regarding its spread has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an international emergency.

Highly contagious, the disease is spread through bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, perspiration, excrement and semen and causes massive internal haemorrhaging, with victims suffering immense pain as they die from loss of blood.

Its proliferation is happening in densely populated parts of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where under-resourced health systems and medical infrastructure have been overwhelmed – a situation exacerbated by the loss of health care workers, many of whom themselves have died in the course of treating victims.

Fortunately, the world is not standing still. A number of nations including the United States, China, the WHO and the World Bank are providing financial and human resource support; even Cuba has dispatched more than 160 health care workers.

But action is required on many levels, one of which involves the design and construction of treatment and quarantine centres to standards which minimise the risk of contagion and maximise both health worker safety and the opportunity for patient recovery.

Toward this end, the Centre for Best Practice Building Control is currently working on a draft building standard aimed at providing guidelines for the construction and subsequent use of such facilities and serving as a reference for builders, facility managers and maintenance personnel.

The project faces a number of challenges, including the incorporation of appropriate security and quarantine measures to prevent infections of workers or third parties as well as procedures for the safe transport and incineration of contaminated material such as bedding, clothing and used medical equipment.

Also, with corpses remaining contagious for at least a month following the victim’s death, the need for safe body handling arrangements and procedures post-mortem must not be forgotten.

The team working on the guidelines is doing so in a pro bono, best endeavours capacity within tight time constraints, and as the guidelines cover virgin territory, they can be neither definitive nor exhaustive.

A first draft has been published on a number of international online forums and the Centre is seeking feedback for a second draft expected within a fortnight. Accordingly, readers are encouraged to offer their thoughts and ideas in the comments of this article.

Any feedback will assist the development of the protocols and will represent one more step in helping to stop this deadly disease which is causing so much sickness and misery. Once the standard is completed, it will be dispatched to the Centre for Disease Control and other non-governmental organisations for their consideration.

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