CUSOM’s Response to the Ebola Crisis

December 18, 2014 | Leave a Comment

CUSOM’s Response to the Ebola Crisis

When Campbell University medical students arrived in August to begin the semester, the Ebola virus had spread from Guinea, to Sierra Leone, to Liberia, and to Nigeria over the course of nine months. The students desperately wanted to do something to aid in the fight against the disease’s devastating impact in West Africa.

Several students previously served with medical mission teams in Africa and had personal connections to the affected and surrounding countries.  These connections combined with the innate desire to heal and serve, quickly led the student doctors to develop a fundraising project at Campbell’s medical school.

“The need for this project was obvious,” said second year medical student, Daniel Moses.   “This awful disease has seen occasional flare-ups in sub-Saharan Africa over the last two decades, but there has never been an outbreak this widespread with such incredible projections of it continuing to spread.”

Prior to medical school, Moses worked in healthcare in Ghana for several months - a coastal West African country  neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia to the west and Nigeria to the east.  “I consider it the place where I really decided that I wanted to pursue medicine as a career.” 

Moses was not the only student with a vested interest in supporting relief efforts. All of the medical students at Campbell have a connection to the affected region – two of their own classmates are from West Africa: Victor Appau, MS-II, from Ghana and Segun Onibonoje, MS-I, from Nigeria.

Moses and Appau discussed what the medical students could do to support relief efforts, and they decided to raise money in hopes of having an immediate impact.   “I suggested we work with Doctors Without Borders who had been on the ground fighting this disease basically from day one, and whose president, Dr. Joanne Liu, had recently gone before the United Nations asking for support to help stop this emerging epidemic,” Moses said.

Appau and Moses approached class leaders Phillip Deal, President of the Inaugural Class, and, Student Government Association (SGA) President, Erin Fitzpatrick about spearheading the project, and Segun led the effort with the MS-I class. 

The initial proposal was a joint fundraiser sponsored by the Family Medicine Club and SGA in which students could donate $1.00 and in return wear casual clothing to class one Friday per month.  But the students had a sense of urgency because the disease was having a deadly impact daily.  “I suggested the "lump sum" approach, meaning that if students gave $10, they could dress casually one Friday per month for the entire year,” said Moses.  “It was important for us to incentivize our classmates so we could effectively raise money for this cause in the urgent time frame it deserved, and the response has been incredible!”

In a matter of weeks, the medical students donated over $2800, with over 70% of each class participating (126 donors from the class of 2017 and 117 donors from the class of 2018).

According to the Doctors Without Borders website, 87% of the funds donated are used for program services; the funds raised by the medical students at Campbell could provide over 10,000 disaster victims a month of emergency medical supplies.

Dr. Terri Hamrick, Associate Professor for Microbiology and Immunology at Campbell University., states basic medical care goes a long way in fighting the virus.  “We don’t currently have any medications that are specially designed for treating Ebola; however, quality medical care – intravenous fluids, oxygen, and antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections – go a long way in supporting the patient while the body fights the virus.”

Segun states his fear was the population density in metropolitan cities in Nigeria.” The last time I checked, 2 in 5 Africans are Nigerians. I feared that if the virus was not contained it would become a plague.  [However, it has been] largely controlled and well monitored…I am grateful to God and the work of volunteers in battling this virus.”

In the weeks that followed the fundraiser, forty CUSOM students attended the Global Missions Health Conference in Louisville, Kentucky where Dr. Kent Brantley, who survived contracting Ebola while treating patients in Liberia, was a keynote speaker.  Dr. Brantley’s story was one of the cases that lead to Ebola being a household word in the United States. 

“Healthcare teams, such as the one from Samaritan’s Purse that Dr. Brantley was part of, represent local and international sources on the front line of care during an Ebola outbreak, and therefore have the most potential for exposure to infectious material,” explained Dr. Hamrick. “We cannot turn a blind eye on the parts of the world affected; it is important to consider the worldwide consequences of not providing help.”

As the death toll continued to climb (during the 3 week fundraiser, the Ebola virus tragically claimed the lives of 1,394 more people according to the CDC), the 21 day incubation period of the virus and how the disease is passed to others were daily news headlines as health professionals like Dr. Hamrick worked to provide accurate information regarding the disease.

The virus is transmitted by direct contact with blood, body fluids, or the skin of an infected person.  Ebola is not transmitted through the air.  “Viruses can mutate and change, but changing the mode of transmission for a virus would be a really big change, said Hamrick.  “In all of the years that scientists have been studying human viruses, none of them have ever changed their mode of transmission. There is no reason to believe Ebola would be any different.”

“We need to be vigilant in monitoring those who are providing care,” reflects Hamrick. “But, good quality medical care is the only means to containing this infection in West Africa.  In addition to showing compassion to our neighbors around the world, we need to provide support for those who provide the care – both are important responses to this outbreak.”

Doctors Without Borders published a briefing paper “EBOLA RESPONSE: WHERE ARE WE NOW?” this month that states:  “Today, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and now Mali are all in different phases of the outbreak and the hotspots are constantly moving.  Across West Africa, MSF is providing assistance in all six of the essential elements of an Ebola response:  isolation and supportive medical care for cases; safe burials; awareness-raising; alert and surveillance in the community; contact tracing; and the provision of general healthcare.”

“We should all be very proud of the CUSOM family’s incredibly timely and earnest response to the Ebola crisis in Africa,” said Victor Appau.  “To put it in perspective, this current Ebola outbreak has proven to be the deadliest known in human history, far surpassing the outbreak of 1976 in Zaire, Congo (280 deaths). ..I believe this fundraiser is a true testament to our commitment to the service and care of under-served and underprivileged populations worldwide. Personally, as a person of West-African decent, the possibility of a family member being infected with the Ebola is a serious reality. Therefore, it was extremely encouraging to participate in such an endeavor to respond to this dire need.”

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