Dr. Rupa Kanapathipillai

Health professionals talk experiences on front lines of Ebola outbreak

by Joe O’Connell

People aren’t allowed to touch each other in Sierra Leone right now, according to Nahid Bhadelia, an epi­demi­ol­o­gist at the Boston Med­ical Center. Schools are closed, she said, and bap­tisms, wed­dings, and funerals have been put on hold throughout the entire country because of the Ebola out­break that has dev­as­tated West Africa in recent months.

Bhadelia recently spent a few weeks in Sierra Leone, working with the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion to admin­ister care to Ebola patients. She shared her first-​​hand account at an edu­ca­tional panel dis­cus­sion on the Ebola out­break on Tuesday after­noon in Northeastern’s Cabral Center.

The Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, the NU Inte­grated Ini­tia­tive for Global Health, and Insti­tute on Urban Health Research and Prac­tice were part of a con­sor­tium that spon­sored the event.

In the first keynote address, Bhadelia noted the need to increase the number of areas designed to combat the out­break, which according to the WHO as of Sept. 28 has claimed more than 3,000 lives in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

There just aren’t enough people [to pro­vide care],” Bhadelia said. “We need med­ical vol­un­teers, we need people to help with health edu­ca­tion, case man­age­ment, and triage. We need help with everything.”

According to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, Ebola is spread through direct con­tact with bodily fluids or objects such as nee­dles that have been con­t­a­m­i­nated; it is not spread through the air or by water, or, in gen­eral, food. Ebola can only be spread by people who are infected with it or who are showing symptoms.

On Tuesday the CDC announced the first diag­nosed case of Ebola in the U.S. The patient is an adult male in Dallas who returned to the country from Liberia last week. On Wednesday morning, CDC Director Tom Frieden told NBC’s TODAY show that a “handful” of people who may have been con­tact with the patient are being mon­i­tored, but he expressed con­fi­dence that “we will stop Ebola in its tracks in the U.S.”

Other keynote speaker Adam Levine, an assis­tant pro­fessor of emer­gency med­i­cine at Brown Uni­ver­sity and an emer­gency room doctor at Rhode Island Hos­pital, recently returned from Liberia. He worked with the Inter­na­tional Med­ical Corps to set up an Ebola Treat­ment Unit in Bong County, one of the country’s most heavily affected areas.

He showed pic­tures of the facility and explained the process behind its con­struc­tion. “It was a learning curve for us because the Inter­na­tional Med­ical Corps has never opened an Ebola Treat­ment Unit before,” Levine said. “At a reg­ular hos­pital the pri­mary goal is to care for the patients. At an Ebola Treat­ment Unit the pri­mary goal is to pro­tect the staff from get­ting sick.”

Bhadelia and Levine were joined on the panel by Northeastern’s Michael Pol­lastri and Richard Wamai. Pol­lastri is an asso­ciate pro­fessor of chem­istry and the head of the university’s Lab for Neglected Dis­ease Drug Dis­covery. Wamai is an assis­tant pro­fessor of African Amer­ican Studies and an expert on HIV/​AIDS and neglected trop­ical diseases.

Pol­lastri opened the dis­cus­sion by saying that the Ebola epi­demic could improve the focus on dis­eases in the devel­oping world. “You can’t ignore a dis­ease for decades and expect that when Amer­i­cans come home with it that we will have a treat­ment within a week,” he said.

During the Q-​​and-​​A, the pan­elists were asked to explain how to improve the global response to future out­breaks. In Wamai’s view, a greater invest­ment must be made in devel­oping coun­tries’ health­care infra­struc­ture. “The future can look brighter if we have groups, such as the World Bank, that can be respon­sible for expanding the infra­struc­ture of the hos­pital sys­tems in these places,” he said.

Originally published in news@Northeastern on October 2, 2014.

College of Science