Many hospitals in Japan unprepared for Ebola cases

Many hospitals in Japan unprepared for Ebola cases

About 60 per cent of the nation's medical institutions specially designated to treat infectious diseases feel they are not properly prepared to accept and treat a patient with Ebola, with staff shortages and a lack of training the main reasons for this predicament, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

At a time when global concerns are mounting regarding the spread of Ebola, there are growing calls in Japan for the government to improve training for medical personnel who would treat patients with the disease here and to provide greater financial support for these facilities.

The Yomiuri surveyed the 46 medical institutions designated to treat specified infectious diseases across Japan in November, and received valid responses from 40 of them. Only eight institutions (17 per cent of the total) said they were "fully ready" to accept Ebola patients, while 29 (63 per cent) said they were not properly prepared and three (7 per cent) said it was hard to say either way.

When asked to specify the reasons why they were not fully ready, the most common answer - given by 21 institutions - was "a lack of training for staff," while 19 cited "a shortage of doctors and nurses to provide treatment." The facilities could give multiple answers.

According to doctors knowledgeable about the treatment of infectious diseases, it is necessary to set up teams of doctors and nurses when a patient develops such a disease, and they swap shifts while providing treatment around the clock over a long period. This can make it difficult to secure enough staff.

Every such facility trains its personnel on how to wear biohazard suits to prevent the spread of the disease, but it takes time before all staffers are adept at putting on and taking off the suits. Nurses in the United States and Spain who treated Ebola patients ended up catching the disease themselves, which appears to have generated concern among facilities in Japan that they were not prepared for an outbreak of the virus here.

Furthermore, 15 facilities said they did not have an infectious disease specialist doctor who was certified by the Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases. The designated institutes were split on the importance of this point, with Sakai City Hospital in Osaka Prefecture saying it has "doctors with the required knowledge and skills, so certain qualifications are irrelevant," while Morioka Municipal Hospital in Iwate Prefecture said "there are concerns this could delay the response in the event of a serious case of the disease."

The 46 designated facilities have a total of 94 beds and are capable of handling patients with deadly contagious diseases.

Since October, the government has held training seminars around the nation on how to prevent secondary infections, and it plans to subsidize the cost of purchasing protective clothing. However, the survey revealed many facilities want the government to provide more financial assistance and extensive training, as well as help with the compilation of treatment guidelines and the dispatch of specialist teams if an Ebola patient is detected.

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