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December 16, 2014

UMMS leading drive to reopen Liberian hospitals in wake of Ebola

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  • Medical School
Training, personal protective equipment to aid clinics, restore basic health care

UMass Medical School is leading an initiative to restore critically needed basic health care in Liberia by reopening hospitals overwhelmed by Ebola outbreaks, thanks to funding from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

“Everyone has heard about the deaths from Ebola, but many people don’t realize how many women who need C-sections are still dying. Children with malaria have nowhere to go. Most hospitals are still closed,” said Patricia McQuilkin, MD, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at UMMS and a project leader on the $7.5 million Ebola relief grant. “Health care workers had no personal protective equipment and were too afraid to come back.”

UMMS and a team of academic partners on the grant are working to reopen 16 such hospitals by hiring teams of Liberian health care workers, training them to become experts in safely handling Ebola cases and then dispatching them to train colleagues. The teams of master trainers—to include a Liberian doctor, nurse, midwife, psychologist and sanitation expert—will be dispatched to spend one week at each hospital to train staff on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards for Ebola safety, triage, patient care, sanitation and donning and doffing personal protective equipment. Everyone in the hospital will be trained, including janitors and cafeteria staff. One employee will be trained extensively on infection control and will monitor compliance closely.

Simultaneously, hospitals will be fully stocked with personal protective equipment and all necessary safety supplies. The training and medical supplies will allow the hospitals to reopen.

“Now that the Ebola treatment units are up and running, the rate of infection is definitely going down and the Ministry of Health is starting to think about opening the hospitals again,” said Dr. McQuilkin, who recently returned from Liberia. “It felt like an amazing time to be working on this because the timing is working out perfectly. Had we left two weeks earlier, people may still have been focused primarily on controlling the virus.”

“I’m excited that this seems to fit in with what the country wants right now,” said Michelle Niescierenko, MD, pediatric emergency physician and director of the Global Health Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, who is project leader on the grant along with McQuilkin. Dr. Niescierenko is in Liberia coordinating the relief efforts. “We’ve just hired 25 Liberian health care workers and they are starting their CDC training this week.”

Building on a years-long relationship between UMMS and Liberia, the UMass Medical School Ebola Relief efforts funded by the grant are a component of philanthropist Paul G. Allen’s increased commitment of at least $100 million to the Tackle Ebola campaign he has launched. The UMMS Ebola Relief Initiative, announced in October, will also deploy emergency medicine, infectious disease and disaster management physicians; nurse practitioners; nurses; and other health care workers to provide direct medical care to Ebola treatment units. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the largest in history, with nearly 17,600 suspected cases reported and 6,500 deaths since December 2013.

Earlier efforts by UMMS to help rebuild health care in Liberia include nurse and physician education and training in collaboration with the HEARTT (Health Education and Research through Training) Foundation; developing a pediatrics curriculum for a country with only two native-born pediatricians; and working with the Liberian Post-Graduate Council to develop a post-graduate training program.

UMMS has also worked with the University of Liberia and Indiana University to create the UL Center for Excellence in Health and Life Sciences, which, with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funding, has developed health science and public health academic programs; trained doctors, nurses and public health workers; installed a computer lab at Liberia’s medical school; and increased access to print and digital medical libraries.

Established in 2006, the collaborative comprises UMass Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital, Mt. Sinai Medical School, the University of Florida Medical School, the University of Maryland Medical School and Vanderbilt University, and its newest member, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Transportation and Logistics.

Visit www.umassmed.edu/ebola/ to learn how to contribute to the UMass Medical School Ebola Relief effort.

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