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  • Writer's pictureLydia Campbell-Hill

This is why we exist

Fight. Flight. Freeze. These are the lizard brain options when a person comes face to face with danger. It’s a natural reaction to seeing a car barrelling towards you, an escaped tiger eyeing you up or watching news of a global pandemic, with a mounting death toll and stringent lockdowns to try to flatten the curve. First responders, the military, medical teams all fall into a category of people who have no choice but to move towards danger, ignoring their natural concerns to do what the rest of us can’t, tackling it head-on with extensive training, advanced equipment and a strategically innovative approach to problem-solving.

Today however, you only have to look at the news, with shots of healthcare workers standing outside hospitals in despair, viral clips of nurses in tears, begging people to stay at home, and police breaking up street parties and barbecues to enforce social distancing, to understand that there is a simmering undercurrent of fear. Fear of COVID-19. Fear of a spreading, viral threat; an invisible enemy that has driven political leaders to adopt wartime rhetoric and enact wartime legislation, calling on companies to transform from sportswear brands, car manufacturers and white goods designers, into creators of ventilators, masks and face-shields. Here on the front lines, we are afraid; terrified for the lives of our patients, for the lives of our loved-ones and now for the lives of our colleagues. As a member of the NHS in the UK, I feel buoyed and grateful for the fantastic show of public support; adults and children clapping for carers – from balconies, front gardens and windows, praising the NHS and the dedication of its staff in the face of fear, uncertainty and extreme fatigue.

The media focuses on the inadequate supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE) reaching primary and secondary carers whilst care homes and domestic support staff feel exposed and forgotten. Today, YouTube clips show people how to make face masks out of a folded bandana and photos of nurses in bin bags fly around the internet, yet PPE is just one part of the equation.

Imagine the scene; you’re in the ER or Casualty department (or whatever you call it in your part of the world) and someone arrives with COVID-19 symptoms. Actually, scratch that, in the current pandemic, ANYONE walking into hospital could be a carrier of the virus, whether they show symptoms or not, so theoretically we need to treat everyone as if they were contagious and protect ourselves appropriately, right? Assuming we have ample stocks of PPE (not a given, despite governments doing everything they can to ensure equipment is reaching the people who need it), we don the appropriate protection (a three to five minute job if you have someone helping you) before we can enter the area where the patient is coughing, struggling to breathe, and expelling thousands of micro-droplets in a “high viral load” aerosol.

We’ve all seen the animations that show how far coughs and sneezes can carry bodily fluids, that’s why we ask the public to maintain a distance of at least two metres – in order to mitigate the threat of infection. Within seconds of being with a patient, there’s a better than average chance that I have some of the virus attached to me or surrounding me in the air. This gives every care worker a much more tangible sense of personal danger than we would ever usually face and with the stakes as high as they are; with the sheer volume of current and predicted infections; with the extended shifts, lack of sleep and constant fear that we are still only relatively near the start of this pandemic, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that once we’re through this period, governments and health organisations will face a new mental health crisis – as Lucy Warner, chief executive of NHS Practitioner Health has already highlighted. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a very real and present danger for health workers (imagine walking into a hospital in December with a fever and a persistent cough… what conclusion would you jump to?) and as governments, health leaders, innovators, investors and even responsible neighbours, we must do everything possible to reduce the constant fear and stress that these key workers are experiencing 24/7.

This is the core reason that AerosolShield was created. It’s not a PPE replacement – it’s a lightweight, portable, transparent barrier between the clinician and the patient, giving them greater confidence to dive in quickly to start treatment, knowing they are more protected. If we can reduce or even prevent aerosol spray from the patient’s lungs from reaching our personal protective gear in the first place, there’s even less chance of cross-infection or risk to our personal health, helping more front-line staff breathe easier and focus on our primary objective of saving lives and helping victims of this awful pandemic to recover.

We want to do more. In the two weeks since we first discussed the problem of aerosol-generating treatments and the stress and fear that is making our response to this health crisis eminently more traumatic, stressful and uncertain for our healthcare staff across the world, we’ve developed the Shield, tested it onsite with frontline staff, received enquiries from all over the world, joined forces with incredible partners including Airquee for manufacturing and Ligentia for logistics. We’ve achieved more in two weeks than we would have thought possible in three years but we’re barely scratching the surface. We need your help to spread the word, help us produce these Shields and get them to the people who need them the most.

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