The University of Newcastle, Australia

University of Newcastle graduates at forefront of Ebola fight

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Federal Government announced recently it will assist several hundred Australian expert volunteers travel to an Ebola hotspot in Africa to help control the epidemic. The government has struck an agreement to manage a British field hospital in Sierra Leone.
Parent and child

Elsewhere in Africa, two key members of teams fighting the epidemic were tutored in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at the University of Newcastle. Both trained at the Callaghan campus and have recently contacted MPH program convenor Associate Professor John Hall to tell of their experience.

In 2012, Neima Nora Candy, a nurse, working for the Ministry of Health in Liberia, was awarded an AusAid Scholarship to study Public Health at the University of Newcastle. After successfully completing her studies in 2013, Ms Candy returned to Liberia and is now working as the National Ebola Coordinator for the Red Cross.

Dr Edson Kamba, a doctor from the rural districts of Malawi, also won an AusAid African Award Scholarship and in 2013 chose UON to study his MPH. He is now using this knowledge as a key member of a Malawi disaster, emergency, and rapid response team fighting the Ebola crisis.
UON's School of Medicine and Public Health is extremely proud of the remarkable efforts of the two MPH graduates.

Now in Monrovia in Liberia, Ms Candy recently contacted her former mentor Associate Professor Hall.
"I just wanted to keep you in the loop of things since my return home," she said. "I am presently with the Liberian National Red Cross Society serving as the National Ebola Coordinator. I am responsible for high-quality planning, developing, implementing, strengthening, coordinating and monitoring the Ebola emergency program activities.

"This is a huge task for me but I am coping very well with all my skills acquired during my MPH studies, especially my global health skills, which give me leverage to coordinate and collaborate.

"It is really disheartening for me daily when I get to read the National SitReps (situation report) and see that our figures increase. The Red Cross is involved in social mobilisation/awareness, psycho-social support, contact tracing and dead body management in the capital. Since the outbreak in Liberia in May, we have lost more than 1500 persons even though all the deaths have not been confirmed yet.

"I am also working with an Australian Red Cross lady who came as one of the health delegates to help us in this fight. Her name is Libby Bowell and she is from Newcastle.

"I value all your training and it is working here."

Dr Kamba is a leader of the Mchinji District Health Office Emergency, Disaster and Rapid Response Team in Malawi.

In October, a primary school experienced an outbreak of "a strange disease" manifesting with fever, headache, general body pains, vomiting and diarrhoea. Within a week the disease attacked more than 30 pupils and two were admitted to the mission hospital.

Dr Kamba's team immediately followed up the cases.

"It is part of our effort to fight the Ebola virus disease threats in our district, and indeed any other disease," he said.

"During our investigations it was established that prior to this so-called 'strange disease' the pupils had been served with vegetables in one of their meals. It is therefore highly suspected that the supplier might have provided the school with vegetables recently treated with insecticide, and the restricted period of non-consumption had not yet expired."

The case is still under investigation, but food poisoning is certainly a better outcome than Ebola. Dr Kamba paid tribute to the University of Newcastle and thanked his epidemiology lecturer Dr Milton Hasnat. Skills learnt in food poisoning lectures were put into practice, Dr Kamba said.

"I just thought of sharing with the University of Newcastle School of Medicine and Public Health what I am doing here as the MPH Graduate. Honestly, the UON MPH is making a huge difference in my community and perhaps my country," Dr Kamba said.
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