IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 87

05 A Changing World | SARS
Major Milestone
Fighting an Epidemic: SARS, 2003
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a
disease that attacks the respiratory system of
humans; the symptoms are flu-like. This infamous
outbreak is believed to have begun in November
2002 in southern China. From there, in early 2003,
it spread to Hong Kong and beyond to infect
individuals in 37 countries. In total there were
8,273 cases reported with 775 deaths.
At first the outbreak went undetected. The medical
community, and even the WHO, did not know
what it was. It was a disease, but which one? There
was a clear need for information in such cases:
Information that was balanced and did not over or
understate the situation. Our clients were relying
on us for that vital information and advice.
We established a dedicated SARS support team
made up of senior medical professionals, including
Dr Pascal Rey-Herme, Dr Philippe Barrault and
Dr Doug Quarry. They were in daily contact with
each other as well as advising and directing staff
in all our locations. We ensured that all involved
were following the WHO and US Center for Disease
Control protocols for protecting the health of carers
and patients whilst, as always, remaining compliant
with national regulations. Our doctors were on call
24/7 and our clinics were ready for action.
Left: New Portable Medical
Isolation Unit, 2003.
But what would that action be? People in the
general population with SARS were put into local
hospital isolation units. Our clients asked us what
we would do if one of their employees caught the
disease. They did not want sick staff members put
into local hospitals, but there was no way of
evacuating SARS patients due to the risk of
spreading the disease. The UK and US had isolation
units for transporting patients but these were far
too big and required a military transport plane.
Pascal gave the challenge to Dr Roger Farrow and
he immediately got to work. At first Roger tried to
adapt Gamow bags; these bags are used to help
mountain climbers with altitude sickness by
providing a small inflatable, pressurised portable
chamber for them. But as soon as the collapsible
Gamow bags are opened to let the patient out,
any contaminated air escapes too, so clearly this
was not ideal for an infectious patient. Undeterred,
Roger then designed a collapsible device with a
negative pressure interior and special High
Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to ensure
only clear air would be emitted. He took his early
prototype detailed drawings to the Australian
company who was manufacturing the Gamow
bags. They managed to produce the first Portable
Medical Isolation Unit (PMIU) in just ten days.


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