I wish I had understood these things better when I left school.
Getting new tools into the hands of the people fighting Ebola is much harder than it needs to be. I have experience with one alarming example.
Health workers in protective suits get so hot that they have a hard time caring for their patients. (For example your goggles fog up and you sweat profusely.) I asked a team of experts who work on technology for keeping vaccines cold to refocus on keeping the medical workers cool.
Within days, the team had found an existing solution: a vest with pockets where you could insert cooling packs.
Doctors who had treated Ebola patients in West Africa helped test and improve these cooling vests. Here you see Dr. Colin Bucks of Stanford University testing a vest and suit at home while under quarantine after working in Liberia. He rode a stationary bike to simulate the heat of West Africa.
Unfortunately, there was no coordinated system for getting the vests to West Africa. The team had to create new distribution channels by working directly with treatment centers in the region. They eventually got the suits to over a thousand health workers.
Although this wasn’t a critical issue, it is just one example of the challenge of preparing for a highly infectious disease. We see similar breakdowns in detecting outbreaks early, training and deploying volunteers, coordinating with the military, and more. But I’m optimistic that if we start now and stay focused, we can get ready for the next epidemic.