Medical experts seeking to stem the Ebola epidemic are sharply divided over whether most patients in West Africa should, or can, be given intravenous hydration, a therapy that is standard in developed countries. Some argue that more aggressive treatment with IV fluids is medically possible and a moral obligation. But others counsel caution, saying that pushing too hard would put overworked doctors and nurses in danger and that the treatment, if given carelessly, could even kill patients.
Partners in Health, using the French initials for Doctors Without Borders, whose staff members have worked on the front lines of Ebola outbreaks for years. “What if the fatality rate isn’t the virulence of disease but the mediocrity of the medical delivery?”
Doctors Without Borders representatives strongly disagreed, saying that Dr. Farmer’s assumptions about Ebola were incorrect, that intensive rehydration would probably not save as many patients as he believes, and that the W.H.O.’s position has not been proved.
The group’s overwhelmed doctors do what they can, officials said, but it is hard to insert needles while wearing three pairs of gloves and foggy goggles. IVs must be monitored, drawing virus-laden blood for tests is dangerous, and patients yank needles out — sometimes in delirium, sometimes just to go to the toilet when no nurse is around.