Jones & Bartlett Learning Health Blog

    Teaching Ebola

    Posted by Cassie Peterson on Oct 27, 2014 10:04:17 AM

    Richard Skolnik – Author of Global Health 101

    Everyone who teaches global health must now wrestle with what to say and do about Ebola. Should we add a session on Ebola to our courses? Should we begin each class with five minutes on Ebola? In any case, how do we ensure that we pay sufficient attention to Ebola on the one hand but don’t let it take over our courses on the other?

    I have combined the two approaches noted above. In my introductory course, we started one of our sessions about a month ago with a substantive 30-minute discussion of Ebola. Since then, we have taken the first five minutes of each class to review the latest news on Ebola and its implications. In my upper-level case studies seminar, we added a session on Ebola and have also taken the first five minutes of each session since then to cover the latest information on Ebola. In addition, I have set up an Ebola folder on v2™ for both courses and I populate the v2 folders with a carefully chosen selection of the most important information, journal articles, reports, and videos that I see about Ebola.

    My aim in the extended discussion in my introductory class was to ensure that students got a good overview of Ebola from a number of disciplinary perspectives, could place Ebola in historical context, and could see how it fit into global approaches to emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.

    My seminar focuses a third of the time on “the great campaigns” for disease control and the students are experienced in taking a broad view of communicable disease control efforts. Thus, we kicked off the Ebola session with 10-minute student presentations on previous outbreaks in Uganda and Gabon and another presentation on the current outbreak. In doing so, we sought to understand how earlier outbreaks had played out, the course of the present outbreak since its start, and what the lessons of experience should have told us about combating Ebola in Africa now. We then commented on and critiqued the present effort.

    I have also been using our brief discussions of Ebola to help my students see the problem from a policy maker’s perspective. Typically, for example, I will ask the students … “and if you were the CDC Director, what would you have said to the President about that?” “If you were the new Ebola Czar in the US, what would you have asked the CDC Director about letting the nurse on the plane with a temperature of 99.5, when the threshold for her travel at the time was 100.4?” “What would be the benefits and costs, for whom, of taking a certain measure to address Ebola in the US?” “How do you get health workers in the fragmented US health system, that has 800,000 hospital-borne infections a year, to prepare for infection control of Ebola in their health care settings?”

    Before we began to discuss Ebola, I wanted to ensure that my students had a common understanding of “Ebola basics.” Thus, I directed them to the WHO and CDC web pages on Ebola:

    In addition, I encouraged my students to follow a number of websites that are tracking the Ebola outbreak.

    The Kaiser Family Foundation, for example, has an excellent web page on Global Health and offers subscriptions to a number of daily newsletters on health issues, including one on Global Health. This newsletter includes extensive coverage of Ebola. Although there are newsletters that carry “happier” news than this one, I usually begin my day by reviewing this newsletter and the pieces to which it refers me.

    HealthMap is a website that focuses on disease outbreaks, both within the US and globally. One can subscribe to an Ebola alert from HealthMap that will bring you the latest news on Ebola each day.

    The Lancet now has an Ebola Resource Centre that can provide students with some of the most recently published information about technical and scientific issues related to Ebola.

    Besides the above web sites, there are others that can offer important additional information to faculty and students with particular interests in Ebola.

    The US National Institutes of Health has an Ebola Resource Center that will highlight scientific and clinical information:

    Those with a clinical interest in Ebola or who want to see information being provided to US physicians about Ebola can visit the Ebola Resource Center of the American Medical Association:

    The prestigious US medical journal The New England Journal of Medicine also has a website for resources with a scientific and clinical bent on Ebola:

    In addition, the Consortium of Universities for Global Health has started a web page on Ebola that consolidates information from other sources and also includes information from some of its member universities about their own efforts on Ebola:

    Videos about Ebola are also emerging. Frontline on PBS (the Public Broadcasting System in the US) has some very well done and moving videos on Ebola. One video was produced a few months ago and takes the viewer into the work that MSF (Doctors without Borders) is doing on Ebola in West Africa. Videos like this can be overpowering for some students and you might want to note when you send them out that they are “moving,” “very touching”, or “gut wrenching”, as I do.

    The New York Times has also produced a number of videos on Ebola. I found one that follows an ambulance driver in Monrovia, Liberia, as he seeks to fight Ebola to be very moving:

    Finally, this list would be incomplete without mentioning MSF again (Doctors Without Borders). MSF has led much of the world’s frontline work against Ebola, as it is doing again now. Students and faculty can follow an array of Ebola-related resources on the MSF website, as well.

    Richard Skolnik is a Lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health, where he teaches global health courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Richard was previously an Instructor in Global Health at The George Washington University, the Vice President for International Programs at the Population Reference Bureau, and the Executive Director of the Harvard School of Public Health PEPFAR program. Richard worked at the World Bank from 1976 to 2001, last serving as the Director for Health and Education for South Asia. Richard is the author of Global Health 101, a comprehensive, introductory text on global health.

    Ms. Rachel Skolnik Light and Ms. Lindsey Hiebert provided valuable comments on the draft of this blog.


    Topics: Global health, Richard Skolnik

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