The State of Emergency Medicine in Ecuador

Ecuador is fast approaching its 30th anniversary of recognizing emergency medicine as a specialty. Within these three short decades, the country has achieved significant milestones in advancing the field of emergency medicine, including the development of a national EM society and implementation of post-graduate training programs. However, there is still much work to be done.  I was lucky enough to have a conversation with the ACEP Liaison to Ecuador, Augusto Maldonado, to learn of recent advancements of emergency medicine in the country. 

“Igual que todos los países del mundo, el rol los que responden inicialmente y la organización de los servicios de emergencia frente a esta emergencia de salud ha sido muy especial.”

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly affected the specialty in the scope of medical practice, as well as highlighted some of the limitations of the medical system that were already present. Following the global trend, emergency care providers came to the forefront of medical attention with the manifestation of the pandemic. Dr. AM says that many emergency departments were forced to adapt in the face of the pandemic, as some hospitals became designated ‘COVID hospitals’ requiring emergency departments to coordinate care for the remaining patients. For example, some emergency physicians suddenly found themselves providing postoperative care when patients would be transferred directly from surgery back to the emergency department. In other places, emergency departments were transformed into intensive care units, staffed by emergency physicians. Dr. AM explains that the COVID-19 pandemic has given the specialty the push it needs, stating “ . . regarding the issue of the pandemic, it really has given us a very big boost as a specialty and I believe that to the authorities it is now very clear the importance of emergency medicine as a specialty to face this type of complex situation”. 
This increased visibility of the specialty is mirrored by the substantial popularity of the country’s national emergency medicine society, Sociedad Ecuatoriana de Medicina de Emergencias, which has increased in number by over 500%! 
The country has also seen an increase in the number of residency training programs over the last year.  In addition to the two already running in Quito, a third and fourth have been established in the city of Cuenca, and a fifth is set to open in Guayaquil. Furthermore, a critical care fellowship is in the works at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. This project stems from a recent study which identified a high demand for a critical care fellowship in Ecuador. 
A distribution of the five emergency medicine residency programs found in Ecuador
The impact of COVID on trainees’ education has, thankfully, not been substantial. Unfortunately, the pandemic did result in residents not being recruited to the Quito programs for 2020, but the programs in Cuenca did start a new class of trainees last year. As with many training institutions across the world, the residents were initially barred by the health authorities from treating COVID patients. However, the creation of ‘COVID’ and ‘mixed’ hospitals has resulted in an increased workload for residents serving the non-COVID population – “I believe that the residents have more work than before . . . and have more procedures because of the overhang generated by the creation of ‘mixed’ hospitals. There’s a lot to do.” He states that residents are on-track for completion of their programs, with ample procedures logged to graduate.
Another aspect of residency training is the required completion of a scholarly project. Research has been slowed across the country as a result of the pandemic. Interest in COVID investigations sparked the Ministry of Health to establish an ADHOC committee explicitly tasked with expediting the review of research proposals. The committee was mandated to review proposals within five days of submission, but in reality, approvals are taking upwards of three to four months. La Universidad San Francisco de Quito explored this roadblock and revealed that some twenty studies had been published through alternative review processes due to the lengthy process of gaining official approval. Dr. AM views COVID as a potential kick-start for encouraging providers to do research, saying “I see it as a great opportunity to better focus [on] research, which is one of the things that we have been looking to do for a long time . . . with the pandemic, [we see] the importance of doing clinical research [in being] able to give adequate treatment to our patients.” 

Looking forward, Dr. AM says that there are many remaining opportunities for growth in the field of emergency medicine, much of which he hopes can be better addressed once the economic situation in Ecuador recovers. He says there is much desire for innovation within the field, but many EM providers are having to work two to three jobs to have a sufficient income to live, leaving little time for research, teaching, or collaboration. There are many lessons to be learned world-wide from the pandemic, but Dr. AM says that in order to address future issues international cooperation is key.

Cite this article as: Global EM Student Leadership Program, "The State of Emergency Medicine in Ecuador," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 18, 2021, https://iem-student.org/2021/09/18/the-state-of-emergency-medicine-in-ecuador/, date accessed: September 25, 2021
Halley J. Alberts, MD
Halley J. Alberts, MD

Halley is a first year resident training in Emergency Medicine at Prisma Health - Midlands at the University of South Carolina. She was a GEMS LP mentee for the class of 20-21 and has now joined the leadership team by managing the new GEMS LP blog page and assisting with journal club.

Welcome from GEMS LP!

Hello and welcome to the first blog post from ACEP’s International Section’s Global Emergency Medicine Student Leadership Program. We are thrilled to partner with iEM in the hosting of this blog, and we thank them for their collaboration and enthusiasm.

Global EM is a young, quickly growing field in the world of health care, but there remains much work to be done. The GEMS LP program was designed to involve students in this exciting and fulfilling specialty. The program itself falls under ACEP’s International Section in conjunction with the International Ambassador Program. All of these entities share a common goal: the advancement of the emergency medicine specialty worldwide.

Through this blog, we hope to educate, inspire, update, and collaborate on all things global EM.  Every couple of weeks, you can expect to read the ‘key points’  from our journal clubs. In each meeting, we review fundamental global health topics through a book chapter and a research paper, followed by a dynamic discussion with a diverse group ranging from medical students to attendings, working both in the US and abroad. Additionally, you can look forward to interviews with some of ACEP’s International Ambassador team members, interesting case discussions, GEMS LP project highlights and other fun commentaries from our mentees and team! 

We look forward to providing you relevant content that will encourage discussion, contemplation, and promotion of the field of global emergency medicine. Thank you for joining us on this new adventure! Please visit our page (https://iem-student.org/gems-lp/) for more information about our leadership team, awesome mentors, and upcoming events and meetings. 

Comments, suggestions, additions? Please reach out to us!

Cite this article as: Global EM Student Leadership Program, "Welcome from GEMS LP!," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 16, 2021, https://iem-student.org/2021/09/16/welcome-from-gems-lp/, date accessed: September 25, 2021

Student Engagement is a Priority on the Development Agenda

Introduction

Emergency medicine (EM) is a young specialty globally. Its origins can be traced back to the 1960s. As we move forward into the future, in 2019, approximately 82 countries worldwide (out of 194 countries) have recognized EM as a separate specialty. Emergency care systems in these countries are at various stages of development.

However, the mere fact that the specialty is recognized in a certain country does not mean that a modern model of EM clinical practice has been widely adopted throughout the said country. Many challenges remain in the face of the more widespread adoption of modern EM.

By far, the most important challenge in the face of any health care system is human resources. Highly trained personnel are a requirement to operate any system regardless of material resource capacity. You can have the most sophisticated machines readily available, but without the staff to utilize these machines, they will just sit in a dark corner, slowly gathering dust.

Potential causes of human resource limitation in emergency medicine

In countries where EM does not have a strong presence, it struggles to recruit medical graduates into its ranks. Students are deterred from the specialty because of misinformation and a fundamental lack of understanding of the unique role EM plays in a larger health care system. This deprives the specialty of a diversity that could have been harnessed to help the specialty achieve its maximum potential.

Thus, it is imperative that students be ‘engaged’ to ensure a correct exposure to EM. At the very least, you will have educated students, whether or not they ultimately decide to pursue EM as a specialty, on the importance of the role of EM. This has the potential added benefit of removing a lot of future interdepartmental resistance and greatly enhancing the motivation to ensure efficient collaboration between EM and other consulting specialties.

The building blocks of student engagement

The Clerkship

Student engagement can take multiple forms. For example, the basis for a student’s introduction to any specialty is usually the specialty’s clerkship during a medical education curriculum. This is ideally the foundation of any attempt to expose students to EM. However, many schools do not yet have an emergency medicine clerkship embedded in their curriculum. This is a gap that can be temporarily bridged using tailored FOAMEd products that are contextually relevant.

 

The Interest Group

building blocks
“Building Blocks” by André Hofmeister is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0.

The next ‘building block’ is an extracurricular exposure to emergency medicine through a student interest group at their local institution. This allows students to explore emergency medicine in a more relaxed, non-didactic setting. This also presents the opportunity to network with EM faculty and other students that are interested in emergency medicine. It can additionally be an introduction to some soft skills such as leadership, presentation, and interpersonal skills. However, students at schools that do not have academic departments of EM face an inability to use this building block(and the previous block as well).

 

The ‘Student Council’

The final building block in student engagement would be a student section in the national (or international) emergency medicine organization. The advantages of this block are that it can precede all the other blocks and that its reach is very wide. It can, in a way, be the panacea to limited exposure to EM. A student section(or council) can also serve as the ‘interest group’ for students without access to one. This allows students to greatly enhance their leadership skills on a national scale. It also provides them with a front seat to both witness and contributes to the development effort.

Conclusion

It is vital to prioritize student engagement on the development agenda. This will ensure that the EM community can rely on a steady stream of young energies that can keep on carrying the fire. Hopefully, this will accelerate the adoption of organized emergency care worldwide.

In countries where EM is completely absent, it falls unto other countries where EM has taken the time to mature to harness the spirit of Ubuntu and to empower their fellow humans to take control of their own development. Then and only then can we ensure equitable access to high-quality, safe emergency care for ALL.

Further Reading(or watching):

Countries Recognize Emergency Medicine as a Specialty

The Importance of The Emergency Medicine Clerkship

Healthcare: A back up industry

Healthcare: A back up industry

Examples of system failure are littered around the medical field and often disguised as professionalism or better yet heroism. “One resource seems infinite and free: the professionalism of caregivers”, says an opinion piece published in The New York Times. The article goes on to say that an overwhelming majority of health care professionals do the right thing for their patients, even at a high personal cost. Noteworthy is the availability heuristic that comes into play. “Of course they should work in favor of their patients, no matter what, isn’t that why they chose the medical profession!?”, you ask. They sure did. A lot of why you believe that medical professionals must go out of their way to help patients can be explained by what news you are being exposed to these days. The availability heuristic! That kept aside the gist of the article can roughly be summed up in the following excerpt

“Counting on nurses and doctors to suck it up because you know they won’t walk away from their patients is not just a bad strategy. It’s bad medicine. This status quo is not sustainable — not for medical professionals and not for our patients.”

I invite you to, for some minutes, drop all the preoccupation and think about it logically. I have, time and again, submitted myself to the idea that empathy and not logic is the best way to get my point across. But today, let us first think about some pertinent analogies.

As we anticipate the dreaded tsunami of COVID-19, many governmental healthcare institutes are sending out a notice for recruiting doctors and nurses for a certain time. My sister who is a nurse said, “Why do they have to make it sound like we are disposable?”. To which, I wittingly replied, “ Well they are probably looking for paid volunteers.” But the same recurring theme covers the core of our conversation. We simply were treating healthcare as a per-need industry. When the reality is, again, a contrasting opposite. Indeed, healthcare is a backup industry. You do not wish to use it when things are going smoothly. The healthcare system of any country should stand on its mighty ability to deal with crises.

Most other industries can either do with the number of people already in the industry or have to let go of people they already had, during a disaster. That is a contrasting opposite to the healthcare industry. Every time the health of the public is threatened we start to search for volunteers and temporary hires. I argue this is because the healthcare industry is ruled by businesses in the most powerful countries. To the point that the notion of just enough or even fewer doctors working in a setting is looked upon as a heroic measure. I don’t suppose you would say. “Oh! That busy bank has only one teller, and she also works as a receptionist. How heroic of her!”, do you?

There are reserves in almost every industry. Take transportation as another example: I visited Kathmandu on a night bus during my vacation as a child. My dad introduced me to two men. Both of them were drivers. I was taken by surprise when I found out the bus only had one steering wheel. “What would the other driver do!?”, the inquisitive child in me asked. My dad was semi-asleep when he answered, “They will drive for the whole night. Don’t you think they need to rest?”. I sure do Dad, I sure do!

In aviation, the first officer (FO) is the second pilot (also referred to as the co-pilot) of an aircraft. The first officer is second-in-command of the aircraft to the captain, who is the legal commander. In the event of incapacitation of the captain, the first officer will assume command of the aircraft. A second officer is usually the third in the line of command for a flight crew on a civil aircraft. Usually, a second officer is used on international or long haul flights where more than two crews are required to allow for adequate crew rest periods.

There have been some examples of what would be analogous to a natural disaster in other industries. Let us take some economic ups and downs as examples. Remember, India demonetized Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes? Bankers had to work extra hours to make sure the undertaking completed in due time. They, of course, were paid an extra allowance for that. Interestingly they did not have to open up more positions for the work to be carried out. Remember the great economic recession? It “forced” business owners to let go of their employees. Not recruit more!

I vividly remember feeling proud of one of my seniors who was portrayed as an ideal healthcare worker. “He was arranging the medicine cabinet when we visited him”, one of my professors boasted. I felt not only proud but a desire to be at his place and do as he did one day. Today I understand that 1) he could be doing something way more productive and 2) what my senior was doing when my professor reached there was a clear example of a system failure.

Let me give you an example of my intern year to demonstrate the lack of consideration of the human element in designing healthcare systems. I had to take leave for some days. It was the flu. I understand that the coronavirus situation has alchemized the glory that flu deserved all along, but those were different times. I had a severe sore throat and my body ached like some virus was gnawing on my bones. I remember feeling very guilty about being ill because while I was sniffing Vicks and popping paracetamols in the hostel. My friends (fellow interns) were working their asses off. But when the system was designed, did no one think that someone might get sick? I mean, we work around infections every day. C’mon system designers, that is blindness, not just shortsightedness. The irony is: we are in an industry where we boast about our ability to empathize with human pain, suffering, and ill-health.

Human development has been punctuated by disasters of some sort, time and again. It is almost comical that we haven’t learned our lessons and that harrowing circumstances have to keep reminding us of the need for preparedness. It almost feels like I am writing a reminder the second time. After I failed to follow through my previous reminder. For me, the first time was the Nepal earthquake 2015. I am sure you have your own first time. I can only speak of the healthcare industry because that is what I have been fortunate enough to see closely. I am sure preparedness means different things in different settings. For healthcare, it means 1) taking into account the human element and 2) realizing that healthcare is a backup industry.

Recent Blog Posts By Sajan Acharya

What is Emergency Medicine?

I recently have been working on a few different projects that have caused me to stop and reflect, “what is emergency medicine”. This specialty is very young within the house of medicine, compared to most other medical specialties. And while other specialties developed out of an attention to anatomical region or approach to diagnosis and treatment, emergency medicine has developed in large part to fill a gap in the healthcare workforce and address a specific needed skillset within healthcare systems.

Different health systems around the world have different structures and models of care. Some countries have developed robust primary health care systems with universal coverage for all citizens, while others have adopted alternative models of preventative and acute care. There is even greater diversity in how individuals seek and receive care for urgent and emergent health needs. The spectrum of the quality and availability of emergency care often varies within countries as well, contrasting highly populated urban centers against rural communities, or between different counties/provinces.

As a frame of reference, emergency medical care is any unscheduled episode of care for an acute health problem. It should be available 24 hours a day and systems should aim for patients to be dispositioned to inpatient units, taken to the operating room/theater, or discharged for outpatient care. Ideally, patients should spend less than 24 hours in the emergency ward, it is meant to be a short-term waypoint for diagnosis, treatment, and disposition. The skills and approach to emergency care are focused on the initial management, stabilization, and resuscitation of ill patients, as well as making targeted diagnostic and treatment decisions. Emergency care units shouldn’t be built to do any and all testing and treatment, but should complement other care pathways within the health system.

In much of the world the emergency ward is the most common entry point to hospitals and inpatient care. And specialized training in emergency medicine improves the quality of patient care with associated reductions in morbidity and mortality. Emergency medicine providers must be capable of treating all age groups, across undifferentiated and potentially routine or life-threatening patient presentations. And yet, there are days when an emergency medicine provider may not encounter any patients with a true life-threatening emergency, but rather may only see patients with a variety of complaints that exist here and now, and require attention to limit longer-term morbidity or mortality. Conversely, other days may have multiple critically-ill patients all at once. Usually, those attracted to emergency medicine enjoy the diversity of presentations, and it would seem almost no two days at work are the same.

As alluded to above, the emergency departments existed as a triage ward quite some time before the development of a specialized education and training in emergency medicine. And in many emergency care wards around the world today, patients are seen by students or junior doctors with little interest or training in emergent medical conditions. It is also important to remember that most emergency department patients are undifferentiated and evaluating a patient for causes of a single complaint requires a thorough history, exam, and targeted diagnostic testing. This skill set is how an emergency medicine provider can assess a patient who presents with chest pain and distinguish a myocardial infarction from a pulmonary embolism from musculoskeletal pain. To me, this is the real benefit of emergency medical education and specialized care: there are so many treatments and disposition pathways any singular chief complaint can lead to.

But, most anyone reading this post is likely familiar with the need for improved emergency care around the world. And as more countries recognize emergency medicine as a specialty and as more individuals decide to dedicate their career to providing high-quality emergency medical care, the global (and local) standards will continue to improve. An ever-growing body of evidence-based care continues to refine when and how we care for different conditions. And it’s so important that we continue to address the multitude of “unscheduled” health needs for our patients. Continue to adapt emergency medicine to your context and improve the care for your patients; as one of the most well-known EM-education podcasters often says: “what you do matters”.  

Cite this article as: J. Austin Lee, USA, "What is Emergency Medicine?," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 3, 2021, https://iem-student.org/2021/05/03/what-is-emergency-medicine/, date accessed: September 25, 2021

Recent Blog Posts By John Austin Lee

Illness Narratives In Global Health

Storytelling is a powerful tool that allows us to relate to one another across borders, cultures, and experiences. It is a significant aspect of global health. Images associated with international health are those of pediatric patients in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) with descriptions of ailment or news stories on television of an outbreak in a faraway country. These stories capture our attention and allow us to process situations far removed from ours. While stories allow us to communicate the urgency and extent of international health topics, there are challenges associated with illness narratives. It is important to examine how stories are told in medicine, and specifically in global health. It is critical to question who tells stories, how they’re told, and what their impact is. These can be stories of individual patients in a country, medical aid organizations, or even stories of a country’s health infrastructure.

A recent Lancet essay titled “Global Health 2021: Who tells the Story” examines the role of journals when it comes to research in academic global health. The essay cites data showing a lower number of publications authored by those affiliated with or came from LMIC in The Lancet Global Health(1). Here, the authors reflect on how, as a London-based global health journal, they need to examine the narration disparities. They note that an imbalance in authorship is a symptom of an imbalance in power when it comes to academic global health.

This essay was in part motivated by a crucial article by Seye Abimola and Madhukar Pai. In their article examining the decolonization of global health, Abimola and Par state “even today, global health is neither global nor diverse. More leaders of global health organisations are alumni of Harvard than are women from low-income and middle-income countries. Global health remains much too centred on individuals and agencies in high-income countries (HICs).”(2) This important point highlights the distance between the subject of stories and those who tell them. This can limit diversity in perspective while taking away ownership of stories from those who experience it.

An article looking at illness narratives in an outbreak reported that when it comes to Ebola, Zika, and SARS, marginalized communities often bear the burden of disease while their account of illness is often neglected. The authors state, “regardless of income setting, there is a need to give voice to the most marginalized communities during an epidemic.”(3) This point on narration should extend beyond authorship in research to include news coverage of global health events. The way the Ebola outbreak and even early days of COVID pandemic were portrayed are examples of the dangers associated with lack of nuance in the way global health topics are discussed in the media.

Inclusivity of illness narratives around global health can allow us to avoid pitfalls that lead to widespread misinformation and discrimination. In addition to examining who tells the story, it is also important to explore how stories are told. An essay highlighting the challenges of storytelling in medicine notes that at times the trauma of subjects has been exploited by international charities. The article states the importance of communicating stories in a way that does not “feast on the trauma of others”(4). 

At the core of his argument is the need to examine how we communicate the stories of others. As described above, allowing locals to tell stories regarding their experience of illness, outbreaks, and research can help us deal more carefully with the associated trauma. Stories told without careful consideration can lead to widespread misinformation and potentially harmful generalizations. As we move towards examining how we improve global health delivery, it is critical to explore how we can improve the stories we share. In order to create a better system to communicate important global health topics, it is imperative to challenge the ways we receive information constantly.

This will broaden our understanding of complex issues and allow us to consider alternative solutions.

To this end, the following five questions should help us navigate the challenges of global storytelling. These questions are suggested to help guide our approach towards a more

  1. Has the subject given informed consent to tell their story?
  2. How is the story presented?
  3. Is there a way to allow the story subject to be
  4. Do the stories told reinforce harmful stereotypes?
  5. Are there negative consequences to the subject if the story is told?

References and Further Reading

  1. Health TLG. Global health 2021: who tells the story? The Lancet Global Health. 2021;9(2):e99.
  2. Abimbola S, Pai M. Will global health survive its decolonisation? The Lancet. 2020;396(10263):1627-1628.
  3. Kapiriri L, Ross A. The politics of disease epidemics: a comparative analysis of the sars, zika, and ebola outbreaks. Glob Soc Welf. 2020;7(1):33-45.The
  4. Harman S. The danger of stories in global health. The Lancet. 2020;395(10226):776-777
Cite this article as: Nardos Makonnen, USA, "Illness Narratives In Global Health," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, April 5, 2021, https://iem-student.org/2021/04/05/illness-narratives-in-global-health/, date accessed: September 25, 2021

Suicide – An Emergency Priority of Public Health Care

Suicide An Emergency

A significant number of emergency department visits annually arise as a result of intentional self-harm. Although no accurate description explains what leads to suicide or what comes after, it is a multifaceted phenomenon of public health urgency during a global health crisis. In the United States alone, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and worldwide claims up to 800,000 lives each year. The international community must unite to come up with solutions to prevent the loss of life, as every single life lost is one too many.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, such an emergency naturally affects both individuals’ health and well-being and the communities in which they live. Unprecedented times unleash various emotional reactions from isolation, grief and trauma to other unhealthy behaviours, noncompliance with public health guidelines and the exacerbation of mental health conditions. While those who’ve been emotionally, sexually or physically abused in the past are more vulnerable to the psychosocial effects of a crisis, supportive interventions such as the Zero Suicide program and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy designed to promote wellness and enhance coping should be implemented [1]. 

In honour of World Suicide Prevention Week, and World Suicide Prevention Day held on the 10th of September every year, it is important to raise attention to the global importance of suicide prevention. Suicide impacts all people and particularly the world’s most marginalized and discriminated groups. It is a huge problem in developed countries and just as serious in low-and middle income countries where resources and access to healthcare professionals are scarce. In many regions of the world, the taboo and stigma surrounding suicide persist, causing people in need of help to be left alone. 

Suicide prevention with awareness campaigns ought to be prioritized on the global health and public policy agendas as a major public health issue. Routine screening for suicidal ideation by health care professionals providing care should identify and assess suicide risk among populations. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), risk factors of suicide include mental illness, substance use diagnoses, trauma or conflict, loss, family history of suicide, and previous suicide attempts [2].

Effectively implementing suicide prevention strategies at the populational, sub-populational and individual level requires ensuring patients’ lethal means are restricted, reduced, and that all accesss to weapons of self-harm are removed from the nearby environments. Healthcare providers should keep up to date with new developments, research, and technologies screening for suicidal ideation, allowing them to effectively serve patients beyond their clinics’ walls. Key to prevention are strong physician patient relationships that help ensure care transitions allow for physicians to act as supportive contacts reaching out with calls, texts, letters and visits to their patients particularly when services are interrupted. With access to technology the role of psychiatrists, and psychologists may continue uninterrupted as telemedicine serves as an effective platform providing patients with access to care, even during lockdowns. Besides these objectives, greater awareness and education into the community means encouraging the responsible portrayal of suicide in mainstream media. A sensitive issue of this magnitude ought to be communicated responsibly placing special attention to not trigger susceptible individuals. With school based interventions, professionals may act sooner before worsened prognosis’ effectively ensuring that access to peer support services is available. 

Suicide prevention is a responsibility of healthcare systems, medical professionals and communities. All countries must stand in solidarity and unify in collaboration to battle this common threat as preventing the tragic loss of life to suicide is of utmost importance. 

References & Further Reading

  1. In Health and Behavioral Healthcare. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2020, from http://zerosuicide.edc.org/toolkit/treat/interventions-suicide-risk 
  2. Psychiatry Online: DSM Library. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596 
Cite this article as: Leah Sarah Peer, Canada, "Suicide – An Emergency Priority of Public Health Care," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 19, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/10/19/suicide-an-emergency-priority-of-public-health-care/, date accessed: September 25, 2021

Developing Clinical Research Ethics in the Developing World

Developing Clinical Research Ethics in the Developing World

“You are a research fellow working on a clinical trial for cryptococcal meningitis (CM) in Ugandan AIDS patients. If a patient is diagnosed with CM and enrolled in this trial, they receive free care for treatment duration and reimbursement for non-medical expenses. Seventy-five percent of this population lives on less than two dollars per day and cannot afford these costs otherwise. A woman presents with CM symptoms, but after testing her cerebrospinal fluid, she is instead diagnosed with deadly bacterial meningitis. She cannot be enrolled in the trial and is too poor to buy antibiotics. ”

What do you do?

I recently presented this case at a classroom discussion about global health research ethics. When this dying woman’s mother pulled on my lab coat and pleaded for help one day at the government-run Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital (MRRH), where I worked as a clinical research fellow for nearly a year, I did not know what to do, and neither did my peers.

Like many global health-oriented physicians, my career began with short-term medical mission trips as a pre-medical student. However, I found these trips to be self-serving and unsustainable; indeed, the ethical shortcomings of these trips have long been argued because often participants’ benefits outweigh those receiving of their “help.“[1] Thinking research might be a way to develop an ethical global health career, I completed a summer clinical research project in India, which I found more productive and substantial than short-term mission trips. Galvanized by the belief I could change the world through ethical research, I applied for the clinical research fellowship in Uganda.

Ultimately, I found my experience as ethically fraught as the short-term missions I swore to avoid. I am not alone in these sentiments: others have noted that AIDS in Africa has paradoxically been both a source of significant tragedy and significant academic opportunity. Unfortunately, these opportunities are distributed unevenly, producing fresh inequalities. In their efforts to reduce suffering in Africa, some global health researchers have inadvertently capitalized on the intellectual opportunities provided by those same African sufferers.[2]

At MRRH, where the shortages of gloves, saline, and basic medications reflect the hospital’s poverty and its patients, research-based medical care is often the only care people receive. Academic collaborations between western and sub-Saharan African institutions enable African researchers to publish in journals viewed by western audiences. As of 2017, patients presenting to MRRH with tuberculous meningitis or CM were enrolled in American-run clinical trials and treated without charge by experts with effective medications. Western-based surgical teams have improved MRRH’s surgical capacity, where sophisticated procedures are now performed with modern equipment. In 2004, after multinational research programs dedicated to tackling AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria (ATM) worldwide were launched in the late 1990s, clinics started supplying HIV-positive Ugandans with free antiretrovirals and other services, causing a significant decline in HIV-related mortality.[3]

However, inequities in patient care are apparent in the areas of MRRH that have not yet benefitted from foreign research dollars, particularly the intensive care unit and the emergency department. The two working ventilators in the hospital are usually occupied by neurosurgical patients. Deaths due to trauma and road traffic accidents in Africa cause the loss of more life-years than AIDS and malaria combined [4], which is also true at MRRH. Like the woman in the case above, patients suffering from other non-ATM infectious diseases are sometimes victims of these inequalities at MRRH.
This unequal distribution of research wealth in a resource-limited setting such as MRRH troubles me. At MRRH, often, patient care follows research dollars; when the money runs out, so does the patient care. The Declaration of Helsinki requires control groups to receive the ‘best’ current treatment, not the local one – and while in developed countries the difference between ‘best’ and ‘local’ may be small, in settings like MRRH this difference is profound and may result in severe ethical consequences.[5]

In March of 2018, I watched a presentation by researchers who conducted a CM clinical trial in eastern Uganda, similar to ours at MRRH. A conference attendee voiced concern that the trial had violated the Helsinki Declaration, since many participants in the control group had not received any treatment. The presenter responded that the standard of care treatment for CM at this hospital was often no treatment, because the hospital had nothing to treat its patients. And, in late 2017 when the CM clinical trial at MRRH ended, CM patients there no longer received free treatment.

Uganda is often cited as the success story in sub-Saharan Africa in its efforts to reduce its HIV burden, largely due to funding from large international research programs.[6] But perhaps these trials reveal that acceptance of this ethical relativism in clinical research could result in the exploitation of underserved populations abroad for research programs that could not be performed in the sponsoring country.[5] Researchers must first be aware that conducting clinical research in resource-limited settings may create as many inequalities as it alleviates, particularly where the minimal standard of care for certain conditions is lacking. Secondly, research is often the conduit for medical care for impoverished people, which in turn creates unique ethical issues.

How can we global health researchers mitigate some of these ethical quandaries? I suggest that before embarking on clinical research (particularly in underserved areas), researchers assess their site’s health care needs and risk of patient exploitation, and that teams include medical anthropologists and epidemiologists well-versed in the local population’s health care needs and their receptiveness to clinical research. At MRRH, this was not a requirement of institutional review board approval for studies, so research teams must take this responsibility onto themselves.

Billions of people worldwide have benefitted from the discoveries that clinical research provides. Unfortunately, historically in our quest for valuable intellectual resources, those benefits have sometimes come at the cost of human exploitation. To maximize the benefit of clinical research for all involved, global health researchers must ensure this exciting and evolving field grows in an ethically sound manner.

References

  1. Roberts M. Duffle Bag Medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2006;295(13):1491-2.
  2. Crane JT. Scrambling for Africa: AIDS, Expertise, and the Rise of American Global Health Science. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press; 2013.
  3. Wendler D, Krohmal B, Emanuel EJ, Grady C. Why patients continue to participate in clinical research. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(12):1294–9.
  4. Hulme P. Mechanisms of trauma at a rural hospital in Uganda. Pan Afr Med J. 2010;7:5.
  5. Angell M. The Ethics of Clinical Research in the Third World. N Engl J Med. 1997;337(12):847–9.
  6.  Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections: Uganda [Internet]. 2004. Available from: http://data.unaids.org/publications/fact-sheets01/uganda_en.pdf
Cite this article as: Sarah Bridge, USA, "Developing Clinical Research Ethics in the Developing World," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 21, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/09/21/clinical-research-ethics/, date accessed: September 25, 2021

COVID-19 Pandemic: Rural Preparations

Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst has been the theme of all medical institutes around the world, especially in counties that are yet to be hit by the dreaded tsunami of overwhelming COVID-19 cases. We have 191 positive cases 153 of which are in the hospital being treated and 33 have recovered. Fortunately, there have been no mortalities till date. [1] The current statistic may not look dreadful given the large numbers that we are exposed to daily these days. Before the cases reached 100, most Nepalese wondered, sometimes boastfully, why the cases are not spreading like wildfire. People went on record, crediting our culture of greeting with Namaste instead of a handshake, eating with hand instead of a spoon – which necessitates handwashing at least 4 times a day, the hygiene hypothesis, the fact that our country has only one international airport, and the universal coverage of BCG vaccination in Nepal. There are too many biases and heuristics at play here, but somewhere inside, I want to believe that at least some of them are true.

The Sukraraj Infectious and Tropical Disease Hospital (STIDH) in Teku, Kathmandu has been designated by the Government of Nepal (GoN) as the primary hospital along with Patan Hospital and the Armed Police Forces Hospital in the Kathmandu Valley. The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) has requested the 25 hubs and satellite hospital networks across the country – designated for managing mass casualty events – to be ready with infection prevention and control measures, and critical care beds where available. The Government is allocating spaces for quarantine purposes throughout the country and some sites have already been populated by migrants who recently returned from India. [2]

We have seen healthcare systems that are multi-fold advanced than that of our crumble when faced head-on with this illness. After working in the healthcare system of my country for 2 years, I am convinced that it will take a miracle for us to deal with this pandemic.

I have seen what preparations we are striving towards and what portion of it has been achieved. We are struggling to reach our preparation goals. That is not nearly as frustrating as the fact that many countries whose baseline was our goal have failed terribly. Today keeping the theme of workarounds rather than complaints about things outside of our circle of influence, I am presenting to you some preparatory works being done at Beltar PHC, a peripheral center located in one of the most affected districts, Udayapur, of Nepal. [1]

Credit, where credit is due: We have done 17878 RT-PCR, and 58546 RDT to find 191 positive cases till May 12, 2020. [1] We came up with a protocol and are also gradually updating it to meet the contemporary need. Funny word that contemporary is, especially now that no information gets to age before a new one replaces it. Speaking of temporary, a very recurring theme these days, there are temporary shelters made at every ward level in Beltar. People returning from abroad are kept in isolation for 14 days there. We run a temporary fever clinic at the PHC and refer suspected cases to higher centers for the COVID-19 test. We don’t have rapid diagnostic kits at the PHC yet. Our PHC with 26 staff has received 13 disposable PPEs that we have had the privilege of reusing. There is an Interim reporting form for suspected cases of COVID-19 (based on WHO Minimum Data Set Report Form) which can be downloaded and filled from the MOHP website. [3]

Available PPE at PHC level. Photo credit: Mr. Govinda Khadka
Fever clinic at Beltar PHC. Photo credit: Mr. Govinda Khadka
Quarantine setup at a ward in Chaudandigadi Municipality. Photo credit: Mr. Govinda Khadka

Lockdown was announced in Nepal on March 24, 2020. Excerpt from WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing [4] on COVID-19, 25 March 2020 says this: “Asking people to stay at home and shutting down population movement is buying time and reducing the pressure on health systems. But on their own, these measures will not extinguish epidemics. The point of these actions is to enable the more precise and targeted measures that are needed to stop transmission and save lives. We call on all countries who have introduced so-called “lockdown” measures to use this time to attack the virus. You have created a second window of opportunity. The question is, how will you use it? There are six key actions that we recommend:

  1. Expand, train and deploy your health care and public health workforce;
  2. Implement a system to find every suspected case at the community level;
  3. Ramp up the production, capacity, and availability of testing;
  4. Identify, adapt and equip facilities you will use to treat and isolate patients;
  5. Develop a clear plan and process to quarantine contacts;
  6. Refocus the whole of government on suppressing and controlling COVID-19.”

In Nepal, there has been documentation of protocol for various aspects of the pandemic; PPE for each level of care has been decided, need to scale up the testing recognized, and even the support for Solidarity trials discussed. The protocol designed to tackle COVID-19 recognizes that different strategies for the rural and urban areas are necessary. The response to outbreaks in remote and rural areas where containment may be easier though assistance more difficult vs. outbreak in urban locations where containment is likely more difficult, but treatment and assistance likely to be easier.

The mist of immediate threat followed by the rubble of destruction it causes keeps us blind to the problems lurking in the background. As big and dangerous, if not bigger. Especially when you know nothing even vaguely similar to CARES-Act is being prepared for dampening the direct and indirect economic impact of the epidemic. Add to the fact that the American government’s CARES-Act already faces various criticism—that gives birth to anxiety for even the most seasoned economists. That is looking at just one domain of the post epidemic future. Healthcare might be crippled, social structure tossed over, politics somersaulted and people stripped off their faith. That may give rise to a jigsaw too complicated to attempt. It is high time we start thinking about solving some of those puzzles now.

References

1. Corona Info. Ministry of Health and Population. Accessed May 12, 2020. https://covid19.mohp.gov.np/#/
2. COVID-19 Nepal preparedness and response plan (NPRP) draft. April 9. Accessed May 10, 2020. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/nepal-documents/novel-coronavirus/covid-19-nepal-preparedness-and-response-plan-(nprp)-draft-april-9.pdf?sfvrsn=808a970a_2
3. Reporting form for COVID. Accessed May 12, 2020. http://edcd.gov.np/resources/download/reporting-form-for-covid
4. Situation reports on COVID-19 outbreak, 25 March 2020. WHO | Regional Office for Africa. Accessed May 12, 2020. https://www.afro.who.int/publications/situation-reports-covid-19-outbreak-25-march-2020

Cite this article as: Carmina Shrestha, Nepal, "COVID-19 Pandemic: Rural Preparations," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 25, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/05/25/covid-19-pandemic-rural-preparations/, date accessed: September 25, 2021

The AFEM/GECI Emergency Care Pathways

emergency care pathways
Dr. Emilie Calvello Hynes

In this post, we are sharing an announcement with you. One of our contributors, Dr. Emilie Calvello Hynes has something to share with you. Here is her message.

Dear all,

The Global Emergency Care Initiative has created and maintained its Emergency Care Pathways since 2018 on AgileMD in collaboration with the African Federation of Emergency Medicine. We have recently updated and expanded guidance to reflect COVID-19 care in low and middle-income countries.  

If you have colleagues in other countries who could use curated, clinical support in a single source that is updated daily, please consider letting them know about this resource. A flyer attached to aid in dissemination.  
 

We welcome your thoughts and the ability to disseminate this resource further.

In solidarity,

Emilie 

Description
The AFEM/GECI Emergency Care Pathways were launched in 2018 to provide an “at the bedside” reference to help standardized emergency care for common presentations of acute illness for healthcare workers working with limited resources.  
 
The pathways are available online/offline, available via an app or in printable form. The pathways integrate WHO Emergency Care Checklists, updated AFEM Handbook recommendations, WHO Essential Medication Lists and accepted international standards (e.g. Helping Babies Breathe, MSF Guidelines) as a summary reference of best-practice care. The pathways have been peer-reviewed and tagged for differing levels of possible interventions based on resources. The Emergency Care Pathways are meant to be applied after the initial assessment and management taught by the WHO BEC.
 
In addition, the app serves as a repository for open access commonly reference texts, useful protocols, forms and links. The pathways have been updated to reflect useful at the bedside guidance for clinicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resources and clinical guidance are updated almost daily.  The links include ACEP guidance, AFEM, WHO, Partners in Health and any other resources we think would be helpful to clinicians practicing in LMICs. 
 
How to sign up
This resource is free to all users and may be registered for via coloradoglobalem.org/register
Emergency Care Pathway
Cite this article as: iEM Education Project Team, "The AFEM/GECI Emergency Care Pathways," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, April 20, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/04/20/the-afem-geci-emergency-care-pathways/, date accessed: September 25, 2021

What has COVID-19 taught us thus far.

On a brighter note, more than 150 countries have less than 100 cases as of April 5, 2020. That being said, there probably isn’t an unaffected country on our planet. I am from Nepal, and we have identified 9 cases with one local transmission as of April 5, 2020. One recovered, and 8 in isolation with no death reported to date.[1] It may be hard to comprehend the effect 9 cases have on a country where the probability of dying between the age of 15 and 60 years is 171 per thousand, but total expenditure on health is only 5.8% of GDP. The effect is fairly straightforward but too subtle to get the spotlight amidst this crisis. I contemplated if this is the right time to document these subtleties, but reflections are most useful for future reference only if made accurate. And a major component of accurate reflection is the “time since the event.”

I will take you to the time during my USMLE step 3 preparation and try to tie that in with my point here. One typical day during my preparation, I was doing my 2nd Uworld block and stumbled upon a deceivingly simple question. The gist of the question was: why do patients ask for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide? I, in the hope of breezing through the question, answered physical pain. To my surprise, that was the most common wrong answer—the right answer: the anticipation of a lack of control and loss of autonomy.
If we are to understand the fear my country is going through, we need to let that information sink. The anticipation of a lack of control makes people ask for help in ending their life.

Nepal ranks 150 in terms of the overall health system in the world. I have been a doctor in one of the most academic tertiary care hospitals here, and I won’t hesitate a second to tell you that our health system will break the moment a fraction of the so-called tsunami of COVID-19 hits us. The country has been on lock-down for nearly two weeks now and plans to stay that way for some more days [Meetings is ongoing, and the final decision hasn’t been reached]. Of course, that will mean people will not have enough money to sustain. Patients of chronic illness will not have enough medicine. The country’s already crippled economy will be damaged beyond repair, and whatever first steps the country was attempting to make towards development will not only be held but legs fractured and eyes blinded. If God forbid, the pandemic hits us hard, no one in Nepal will have outrage that we did not increase the number of ventilators. That just isn’t a variable worth considering [to the general public], given our economy. We are talking about a country where when a village gets a USG machine; it is not used until inaugurated by someone at a position and the inauguration is celebrated like a festival. Everyone who understands the stake knows that we are praying to avoid a war we will invariably lose.

Having said that, I am impressed by the steps taken by the country. Lock-down was a gutsy move. Right when the director-general told people of WHO that lock-down is just a second window of opportunity for countries to prepare for what is to come, I was interested in what our preparedness looks like. Makeshift quarantine rooms are being constructed, test kits being brought in [Update: test kits were of too poor quality to use and hence were returned to China].[2] Patan Academy of Health Sciences, where I studied, has taken the initiative to make their own PPE. Some municipalities are mobilizing locals to make sanitizers, and the government is subsidizing some of the public expenditure. Of course, proportional to the country’s economy, but all this is happening when the country has 9 cases. Remember that actual physical pain was a wrong answer, and the anticipation of future suffering was the right one?

Number of ICU beds increased as preparation for COVID-19 at Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. Image by Saugat Sen Dhakal via https://www.healthaawaj.com/news/11928/
PPE being prepared at Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. Image by Saugat Sen Dhakal via https://www.healthaawaj.com/news/11928/

With people staying inside comes a myriad of difficulties. We have already seen it happen, “lucky” us! Everyone will start hoarding on essential supplies, which will increase the price because, apparently, the market still runs on supply and demand. Fear, loneliness, and abundance of time to ruminate on every minuscule of a problem on earth will start showing their effect. Depression, anxiety, and many other psychiatric morbidities will use the time as a breeding season. Household violence increases, and quality of life will take a big toll. Less affluent portions of the population will take a bigger hit in all aspects because inequalities in health are a double injustice; most affected are the people who are already suffering. The graph we hope to flatten will lend its height to the one plotting many other problems.

But we are willing to take that trade and probably everyone should. By no means am I saying that Nepal is doing a great preparation because I know it isn’t. There is much more we can do if we had the resources and global political influence.

We have seen countries with abundance kneeling before this virus. I pay my deepest sympathies to the lost lives around the world and even deeper respect to the frontline warriors. My message here, I guess: When prevention is better than cure is wrong not only because there is no cure but also because you know you will fail to provide care, you better prevent it as your life depends on it. Because it probably does.

Cite this article as: Sajan Acharya, Nepal, "What has COVID-19 taught us thus far.," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, April 13, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/04/13/what-has-covid-19-taught-us-thus-far/, date accessed: September 25, 2021

References

  1. WHO. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report—76 [online], 06 apr 2020. [cited 2020 Apr 6]. Available from: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200405-sitrep-76-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=6ecf0977_2.
  2. Sapkota R. Nepal to test COVID-19 test kits from China. Nepali Times [Internet]. 2020 Apr 1 [cited 2020 Apr 6]. Available from: https://www.nepalitimes.com/latest/nepal-to-test-covid-19-test-kits-from-china/ 

COVID-19 vs Influenza: A Diagnostic Dilemma

covid 19 vs influenza

During the last two months, the world experienced an outbreak of what was known to be an unknown yet contagious virus, The Coronavirus, namely COVID-19. News circulated about the virus being spread in China, and the number of people affected increased daily. While there was panic in China, other parts of the world were alert and anticipating a few occurrences, but definitely not as much as the situation is today.

Eventually, as the numbers increased, number of hospital staff who started wearing masks and taking necessary precautions increased, anticipating the arrival of the disease into their regions, until a few days later, there was news of the virus being spread to different countries, new cases emerging from different parts of the world, the case fatality rate rising, infection control rules became stricter and this was the start of what has lead the COVID-19 to be announced as a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

While researches are being conducted, treatments are being tested, one of the biggest dilemmas physicians are facing, is to differentiate between Coronavirus and Flu caused by Influenza virus. The latter being a more known and common cause of flu during the winter months.

When news of the coronavirus created alarm in the general public, there was an influx of patients in the Emergency Departments all around the world, most of them being travelers with flu symptoms and airport staff. Since little was known about the virus then, standard infection control protocols were applied as a general rule until a diagnosis and the severity of illness was sought.This created another issue, could this be seasonal flu, or was it Corona? The decision was harder amongst people in extremes of age. When the disease had just been discovered, testing and results took time and little was known, unlike what the situation is today where countries such as South Korea are offering drive-through tests, with results within 24 hours.

This added to the importance of knowing the differences and similarities between the two to provide adequate management and treatment.

Similarities

  1. Transmitted by contact, droplets and fomites.
  2. Both require precautions such as good hand and respiratory hygiene
  3. Both cause mild to severe respiratory illness
  4. People are commonly affected in winter

Differences

  1. Influenza virus has additional symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue whereas COVID-19 can present with diarrhea
  2. Influenza has a shorter incubation period as compared to COVID-19 (2-14 days)
  3. According to current data, children, women and elderly are more affected by influenza, whereas COVID-19 causes more severe illness in the elderly and those who are immunocompromised and those suffering from underlying medical conditions
  4. COVID-19 is being known to have a higher mortality rate as compared to influenza
  5. Annual vaccines and antiviral agents are effective against influenza, and there is currently no proven treatment for COVID-19
  6. People who have flu caused by influenza are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after contacting the illness

Overview of the COVID- 19

It belongs to the family of Coronaviruses, which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 is the newest type discovered in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

Method of transmission: is respiratory droplets from the nose or mouth of a person who is infected by the virus (coughs/sneezes within 1 meter).
Incubation period: 1-14 days

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. Around 1 out of every six people who get COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Diagnosis: Nasopharyngeal swab, sputum culture
Chest Xray and CT: Bilateral chest infiltrates, consolidation (pneumonia)
Treatment: Symptomatic until a proven treatment is discovered.

Prevention

The four essential steps:
W – wash hands
A – avoid physical contact and public places
S – sterilize and sanitize regularly
H – hygiene is essential.

Cover your nose or mouth with your bent elbow or tissue while sneezing and dispose of the used tissue immediately.

Wear a mask when you have symptoms of flu to prevent spreading the illness.

Cite this article as: Sumaiya Hafiz, UAE, "COVID-19 vs Influenza: A Diagnostic Dilemma," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 25, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/03/25/covid-19-vs-influenza/, date accessed: September 25, 2021

References