New tools help fight Ebola

The World Health Organization recently announced an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the largest since an Ebola epidemic ravaged West Africa from 2013 to 2016. At least two new tools helping patients and health care workers in the DRC combat the disease are products of the USAID Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge.

USAID awarded grants in 2015 to two companies, Kinnos Inc. and Shift Labs, to develop tangible solutions to major challenges faced by health care workers in West Africa, with the intention that the solutions would be ready for use when the next epidemic struck.

“Our priority, and our hope, is that these would be solutions that could be deployed dynamically in the middle of a crisis,” says Jennifer Fluder, senior adviser on innovation and partnerships for USAID.

Decontamination

Kinnos created Highlight, a blue powder that is added to the bleach solutions used as disinfectants at Ebola treatment centers. Decontamination is the first line of defense against an epidemic, says Jason Kang, co-founder of Kinnos. During the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, many health care workers were not disinfecting properly, either leaving dry spots or not waiting long enough for the solution to work.

The blue additive, which changes the liquid properties of the bleach to help it stick to waterproof surfaces, lets health care workers see the spots they miss. The color fades away once the necessary contact time has passed, signaling that the area has been decontaminated.

IV monitoring

Shift Labs’ product, DripAssist, lets health care workers monitor dosage from IV drips accurately in low-resource settings. Nurses must carefully monitor IV drips so that patients receive the correct dosage of medication and fluids, or potentially fatal complications may arise.

ZMapp is an experimental treatment administered by IV, but critics believe it is too risky to use in Ebola treatment centers without expensive electric IV pumps. DripAssist is a portable, battery-operated device that clips onto any clinic’s existing IV system to accurately monitor infusion rates, making ZMapp safe to use in low-resource settings.

Within days of the World Health Organization’s announcement about the Ebola outbreak, Kinnos and Shift Labs heard from partner organizations wanting to bring their products to Ebola treatment centers in the DRC. Médecins Sans Frontières sent 1,000 units of Highlight, and the makers of ZMapp shipped 10 DripAssists to Kinshasa on May 25.

“One of the things I love about programs like Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge is that it helps companies like ours and the community at large build better, more robust tools that end up having benefits for all kinds of people,” says Beth Kolko, CEO of Shift Labs.