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UofL Public Health Professor in Sierra Leone - Supporting Women and Children Affected by Ebola

Released: 2-Sep-2014 9:55 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: University of Louisville
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Muriel Harris, PhD, associate professor, Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, University of Louisville School of Public Health & Information Sciences, traveled to Freetown, Sierra Leone this summer to visit family and care for her elderly father. Now, she is involved in a women’s group that supports women and children who have been affected by Ebola.

“We have lost more than 60 members of the health profession (doctors and nurses) and most of them have left behind children. There also are ambulance drivers and janitors who have also been infected and died,” Harris said.

Harris’ women’s group plans to put together 120 care packages of toiletries for health care workers in Kenema and Kailahun, both epicenters for the disease and the primary treatment centers.

“Our group also will begin the much more long-term task of ensuring that girls are supported to get at least a high school education, and helping their mothers increase earning power through a range or programs and projects,” she said.

In addition, Harris has been involved in health promotion through infection prevention education and early recognition of the Ebola disease. She also is involved in other public health related work, with plans underway to design a study to understand some of the underlying issues that have contributed to many of the deaths.

“The global nature of this epidemic is unfolding before our eyes and the predictions for its spread are almost impossible to determine. Without containment, it could be very far reaching given the porousness of country borders, the free movement of individuals across countries, as well as the movement of people by air and sea. The potential is great for spread, however given the 40-year history of this disease, public health approaches are well tried.

“The challenge with this epidemic is its very fast-moving nature, and its impact on very culturally different populations with very different responses. This has limited the ability of the public health and the clinical community to be as effective as they need to be. It is clear this epidemic requires an international response given the very weak and fragile infrastructure in the countries where health care workers and the general public are dying at unprecedented numbers,” Harris said.

Harris is on Greenwich Mean Time. Although people in Freetown may move about unrestricted, fewer and fewer are doing so. She mostly stays at home out of choice, to care for her father, and to limit exposure. Harris is fine with reporters coming to her. She also can be reached by email, phone or Skype.

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