Science & Research

Faculty travel to Liberia to aid in fight against Ebola

Two U. profs help to treat Liberian patients while med student works to deliver supplies

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Ebola virus epidemic may be happening thousands of miles away, but that is not stopping University faculty and students from trying to help fight the deadly disease.

Both Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine Adam Levine and Professor of Medicine Timothy Flanigan are working to combat the outbreak in Liberia, while Anshu Vaish ’11.5 MD’16 is working from the states to deliver medical supplies to the affected region.

Levine helped found the Ebola Treatment Center in Liberia and is currently working there, isolating, testing and treating patients with Ebola, Levine wrote in an email to The Herald.

Flanigan’s work in the country has focused on its capital city, Monrovia, where he is training healthcare professionals to work with medical equipment, he said, noting that many of them lack adequate training in treating Ebola.


Health care in Liberia 

Both Flanigan and Levine noted that Liberia is not well-poised to battle the Ebola epidemic.

“The health care system was really struggling before Ebola, so (the Ebola epidemic) was a double whammy,” Flanigan said.

“There are very few local doctors in Liberia,” Levine wrote, adding that there are “maybe 50 in the whole country of four million people.”

Nurses and physician assistants make up most of the local medical staff, Levine added, though most of the hospital and healthcare centers in which they were employed closed down at the beginning of the epidemic as large numbers of healthcare workers died from the disease.

“I’m so impressed by the Liberian health care workers and the challenges they face,” Flanigan said.

Patients mostly hear through the radio of the Ebola Treatment Center, which is funded through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, Levine wrote. “Patients call the country Ebola hotline and then we send our ambulance to pick them up,” he added.

Since no vaccine currently exists for Ebola, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms. Ebola causes diarrhea, so patients often become very dehydrated, Levine wrote. Restoring fluids to their bodies orally or through an IV is key, Levine wrote. Doctors can also treat “pain, fever, nausea and delirium,” he added.

The priority is to stem the epidemic, Flanigan said, noting that more research may lead to the development of  vaccines and medication to prevent and treat Ebola.


Shipping supplies 

One of the major struggles health care workers in West Africa face is the lack of proper equipment, Levine wrote.

Vaish is helping to send large shipments of supplies to the region. Some of the supplies include gowns, gloves, masks and chlorine, he said. The equipment that is needed in Liberia is very simple, so Brown students can help by collecting and donating supplies, he added.

Three-quarters of a ton of supplies have already been shipped, Vaish said. “We’re targeting to send another 13 tons.”

“It’s very difficult to get material in,” he added. “Shipping takes too long by sea, so we’re doing it by air freight.”

The problem with shipping by air is that few carriers travel to the areas in West Africa where the supplies are most needed, Vaish said.  “The lack of carriers raises the price considerably.”

Facilitating communication between the different parties involved is also difficult, Vaish added.

Vaish acts as the negotiator between the donors and non-profits in the United States and government officials and health care workers in West Africa, he said. His unique experience previously working for a company in Sierra Leone has given him considerable connections in the area, he added.


‘A human issue’

“It’s a very human issue we should all be concerned about,” Vaish said of the epidemic.

“Rhode Island has one of the biggest Liberian populations outside of the area,” said Susan Cu-Uvin,
professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Brown Global Health Initiative, and many members of the Liberian community are worried about their relatives overseas in Liberia.

Students interested in helping to fight the disease can “raise money for one of the few organizations currently working in Liberia now to fight Ebola, such as International Medical Corps or Doctors Without Borders,” Levine wrote. They can also get involved through the Global Health Initiative.

“Brown is very well known for its social conscience,” Cu-Uvin said.

  • Kevin Worldsavior

    I can eliminate the Ebola crisis for just a few days – Once I am paid the corresponding funds for that.