by Kate Klein, MA, MPH
Professor Rob Murphy is Director of the Center for Global Health and John Philip Phair Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He also wears another hat—as Program Director at the Serefo Laboratory at the University of Bamako, Mali. There, his lab technicians are testing samples coming from people suspected of carrying the Ebola virus as they cross the border from neighboring Guinea or come through Mali’s airport. So far, approximately 30 samples have been tested, and fortunately none have come back positive for the virus.
Other countries in West Africa have not been so lucky. So far, cases have been discovered in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Nigeria. 6,574 cases have been reported officially as of Sept. 23, with 3,091 deaths. Liberia has been the hardest hit due to its extremely poor health infrastructure. Indeed, when asked about whether Mali was prepared for potential cases of Ebola, Dr. Murphy assured me that Malians expect that there will be cases, but that the country is extremely organized despite having very little money to spend on healthcare. “You can protect yourself and be prepared, even if you have little money,” said Dr. Murphy.
Working with the Serefo Laboratory, his team is able to receive a sample from the field usually in about 4 hours and have the results back in about 2 hours. With this level of speed, they are able to get results back to the quarantined suspect quickly enough to know if they are a threat or not. Part of the reason for this efficiency is because of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) investment in the Serefo Laboratory. The lab is accredited as a bio-safety level 3 (BS3) lab, which means it can decontaminate the suspected Ebola specimen before testing whether it is positive or not. There are few BS3-level labs in Africa because building and maintaining such a lab can be quite costly.
When asked about the key takeaways everyone should know about Ebola, Dr. Murphy emphasized that Ebola is actually quite easy to prevent, though it is quite lethal and difficult to cure. He stressed that the virus is not spread by air, but by physical contact with bodily fluids. Thus, using universal precautions, such as hand washing and keeping distance from those infected, are enough to protect you. Mainly, he encouraged people to not be afraid, as Ebola is incredibly preventable.
Dr. Murphy also stressed that this outbreak cannot be contained by non-governmental organizations alone. Though Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and The International Medical Corps (IMC) are doing a great job, there needs to be greater investment by other world leaders in ramping up the delivery of medical supplies, the construction of health facilities, and the availability of trained health workers. He encouraged more “boots on the ground” and praised President Obama’s recent investment of funds and military troops to try to tackle to spread and relieve the already overburdened health systems in the affected countries.
When asked what the Northwestern community could do to help in Ebola relief efforts, he encouraged volunteering or donating to organizations such as MSF and IMC. “This is a wake-up call…it shows just how international we all are and how easily outbreaks can spread as people move across borders so readily.”
Find more updates on the Ebola response on the Center for Global Health’s website.
Donate to MSF here.
Donate to IMC here.