Last year his Excellency the president of Kenya announced that our institute – the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme where I work as the occupational health nurse - will be carrying out a study on Ebola. This was exciting news to me. I have always wanted to be part of a worthy cause in health care; it is the reason I became a nurse in the first place. It also presented an opportunity for me to learn more about a disease that has been ravaging the West of Africa, taking with it more and more human lives every day. I vowed to follow up on the Ebola study when it came to Kilifi, and here I share some of my experiences with it so far.
When the study came, I learned that it was a vaccine trial, and that participants would be receiving the Ebola vaccine jab. Not great for me, because I am known amongst my friends and colleagues to have a bit of a fear about injections; they are no fun whatever the age one is. But after thinking it through I decided to stick with it: the quest for a new vaccine was worthy, and in being involved I would learn more about Ebola and vaccines from the investigators. I also hoped that it would be more satisfying than the only study I’ve been in before – as a ‘control’ in an H1N1 vaccine trial. That previous trial did not involve much: just a visit to the investigator once a fortnight; sometimes a phone interviewed sufficed. But after time the investigators of that trial went quiet. When I followed up with them, I was eventually told that the vaccine was considered no longer useful, so the trial had been stopped. I had not been told that or been given any feedback. The whole thing was very disappointing.
It was clear to me that being in the Ebola trial was going to be a different bowl of soup. It would be more involving, but I would be an insider this time so I could follow up what was going on. Also, one of my colleagues and friends who was recruited before me reported having huge hangover like reactions the next day. I began to have some mixed feelings, and even put off starting for a few weeks so I could build up the strength to be in it. I must say the procedures in the first week when I did eventually join were intense: Needles, needles and more needles! I can say that over and over. And as I said, injections are no fun at all! I do not fear that sharp pointed slender steel implement used for dispensing medicine from a syringe. This is when am on the giving side and not the receiving end. Now I feel for people in Kilifi complaining that there are too many needles or we take too much blood. I think I will give more orals in future.
Even that first week was not as bad as I expected. I am proud that I did not have any reactions. I don’t know if it was because I was mentally prepared for the worst or what. I also shared entertaining stories with the investigators, and got to tell my friends I had had an Ebola vaccine over a beer. They don’t have medical knowledge but should know better. They would say ‘are you sure you won’t get Ebola and spread it to us all?’. I’d explain that when you get the Tetanus jab you don’t get Tetanus but they’d keep joking and checking me out for manifestations of the disease. I’m really looking forward to this study finishing properly this time – unlike my previous trial – and getting to hear more about Ebola, and what was learned, and hopefully that the trial has played a part in the fight against the disease.