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Public health professors debate effects of Ebola outbreak

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Mariana de la Maza.

Professors in the Milken Institute School of Public Health debated ways to curb the spread of Ebola in West Africa and around the world in an expert panel discussion Thursday.

As the number of Ebola-related deaths continues to rise, GW faculty explained how the disease has become a worldwide problem, and how political leaders can take the proper responses now to stop fatalities.

Seven professors hashed out how weak bureaucratic systems in West African countries have made it easier for Ebola to spread, and how the Global Health Security Agenda can help slow down the disease.

Here are five takeaways from the event:

1. Political background

Rebecca Katz, an associate professor in health policy, said the United Nations has coordinated emergency responses to the outbreak, and members are working together to contain the virus.

President Barack Obama is also taking action in response to the crisis, she said. The president announced last month that the U.S. would build treatment units in West African countries, the New York Times reported.

“[The] concept that nations need to come together to adjust to these threats has been building for a while,” Katz said.

2. Why response has been a challenge

Professors in GW’s global health department are looking to build support for the idea that countries must increase their capacities to respond to the risks of Ebola.

Katz said the lack of resources in West Africa is one the the reasons that the response so far has been slow.

“It’s a region of the world that has not been the recipient of many resources,” she said.

3. Global Health Security Agenda

Katz and her colleagues have analyzed international health regulations to help countries think “about how they built capacity to be able to detect, assess, report and respond to public health crisis,” she said.

Global health professors are analyzing the Global Health Security Agenda, which looks at global health in terms of international security and promotes rapid response to outbreaks, in relation to the Ebola crisis. Specifically, they have been involved in “mapping the overlap between global health security and other frameworks,” Katz said.

4. Efforts to reduce transmission

Ron Waldman, a professor of of global health, spoke about his involvement with Save the Children International, a non-governmental organization that is supporting children in Liberia.

“Isolation is key to stopping this epidemic,” Waldman said, adding that without isolation, there is little chance of slowing transmission among people.

5. Potential consequences

Alan Greenberg, the chair of the epidemiology and biostatistics department who led the discussion, prompted panelists about the long-term and short-term consequences that the outbreak could have, especially on health care workers.

Because hospitals are limited in the number of patients they can care for at any one time, outside medical workers have traveled to the area to support them.

Waldman also spoke about child protection, noting that there could be a rise in the number of orphaned children in the area if parents die from Ebola.

He said food distribution, education and family income have all become issues, causing economies in West Africa to suffer.

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