“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.

According to the Centers for Disease Control website, as of Aug. 28 there has been a total of 1026 suspect and confirmed cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, and 422 deaths.

Harris’ 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 of 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 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 of spreading the virus is great, but public health approaches over the course of the 40-year history of this disease 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 communities 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.

The University of Louisville recently issued guidelines to physicians, faculty, staff and students returning from travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia or Nigeria, the countries involved in the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Physicians, faculty, staff and students must contact Trish Cooper, RN, at Campus Health Services for a brief risk assessment in regards to the Ebola outbreak. Trish may be reached at 852-6479. This line is answered 24 hours per day.

For more information on Ebola, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/guinea/.

Julie Heflin
Julie oversees digital content for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She began her UofL career on the Health Sciences Center campus in 2007. Prior to this, Julie was a journalist with WFPL (Louisville Public Media), and occasionally filed reports for National Public Radio.