Seven months into an Ebola epidemic that has claimed over 3,300 lives and infected more than 7,100 people, the Yale public health community is getting involved.
On Sept. 9, the Yale Ebola Task Force, led by Director of the Yale Global Health Initiative and Branford College Master Elizabeth Bradley, sat down over dinner to discuss preliminary plans on engaging the Yale community in the public health crisis. The primary mission of the task force, which currently consists of a dozen Yale faculty members and six Yale College students, is to educate the Yale community through a panel discussion and seminar. Students on the task force will also form a benefit concert to fundraise for organizations operating in West Africa, the region currently affected.
“We are trying to ensure that Yale is engaged … that [faculty members] are thinking both about their own research … and bringing relevant Ebola related questions into … classrooms,” Bradley said.
The task force will first focus on teaching the basics and helping the community understand potential policy interventions. On Oct. 16, the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute and Yale World Fellows will sponsor a panel, “Beyond the Headlines: Understanding the Ebola Epidemic and Crisis Relief Initiatives.” The panel will feature World Fellows Chris Lockyear, an operations manager at Doctors without Borders, and United Nations Social and Development Affairs officer Susana Edjang.
The group will then invite students to attend a Global Health Seminar, taught weekly for interested School of Public Health and School of Medicine Students. The Oct. 27 seminar will be entitled “The Ebola Virus: How dangerous is it?” and will be led by Senior Research Scientist and Lecturer in Epidemiology Jamie Childs, who has done work on the ground in past Ebola outbreaks.
Childs will discuss the cause of the virus, containment, accompanying challenges and how Ebola affects the human body, said GHLI Executive Director Michael Skonieczny. He added that at a place with Yale’s resources, it is important to offer people an opportunity to learn more and help.
Winnie Wang ’15 was one of the six students who attended the task force’s first meeting. When the question arose of how the team could mobilize students to take action, Wang — a violinist with the Yale Symphony Orchestra — suggested the idea of a benefit concert.
“This event presents a perfectly compelling reason for students to use their talents,” Wang said, adding that she hopes to pull together as diverse a group of performers as possible.
The concert will be held at Battell Chapel on Nov. 8. So far, the task force has confirmed acts from the Alley Cats and Shades, although Wang said she has reached out to many other groups who have also given enthusiastic responses, but are unsure about their availability.
Bradley said the administration has been very supportive, and the Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications plans to send out to students a list of organizations they can donate to for Ebola relief efforts.
This Ebola epidemic is overwhelmingly larger and more dangerous than previous outbreaks, Bradley said. In the past, the virus has usually been contained in rural settings, but this time it has infiltrated urban areas like Monrovia much faster. She added that a third of all deaths from Ebola, which first emerged in 1976, have occurred from the outbreak.
“The recent diagnosis of Ebola in the United States is a stronger reminder that the world is interconnected,” Bradley said, referring to Tuesday’s news that a Texas man with Ebola was in contact with hundreds of people. GHLI Senior Scientific Officer Kristina Talbert-Slagle, who will be part of the Oct. 16 panel, added that Ebola happening anywhere is a global health threat everywhere.
Currently, no Ebola research is being conducted at Yale, Yale Director of Office of Environmental Health and Safety Peter Reinhardt said. But the School of Medicine is in the midst of preliminary vaccine work that could contribute to an effective vaccine years in the future, he added.
Bradley said that there has been an increased focus on gene sequencing at Yale in the past few years, an emphasis that could be instrumental in helping medications keep up with the Ebola virus as its genome shifts.
“Yale prides itself on being such a diverse and global community,” Wang said. “Even before the first Ebola case was confirmed in America, we should have been concerned and we should take action.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to 1.4 million people worldwide could be infected by January.