Barriers to supportive care during the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa: Results of a qualitative study
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Background During the 2013-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, supportive care was the only non-experimental treatment option for patients with Ebola virus disease (EVD). However, providing care that would otherwise be routine for most clinical settings in the context of a highly contagious and lethal pathogen is much more challenging. The objective of this study was to document and deepen understanding of barriers to provision of supportive care in Ebola treatment units (ETUs) as perceived by those involved in care delivery during the outbreak. Methods This qualitative study consisted of 29 in-depth semi-structured interviews with stakeholders (decision-makers, physicians, nurses) involved in patient care delivery during the outbreak. Analysis consisted of interview debriefing and team-based transcript coding in NVivo10 software using thematic analysis. Findings Participants emphasized three interconnected barriers to providing high-quality supportive care during the outbreak: 1) lack of material and human resources in ETUs; 2) ETU organizational structure limiting the provision of supportive clinical care; and 3) delayed and poorly coordinated policies limiting the effectiveness of global and national responses. Participants also noted the ethical complexities of defining and enacting best clinical practices in low-income countries. They noted tension between, on one hand, scaling up minimal care and investing in clinical care preparedness to a level sustainable in West Africa and, on the other, providing a higher level of supportive care, which in low-resource health systems would require important investments. Conclusion Our findings identified potentially modifiable barriers to the delivery of supportive care to patients with EVD in West Africa. Addressing these in the inter-outbreak period will be useful to improve patient care and outcomes during inevitable future outbreaks. Promoting community trust and engagement through long-term capacity building of the healthcare work-force and infrastructure would increase both health system resilience and ability to handle other outbreaks of emerging diseases.