Sub-Saharan African medical and nursing schools are building capacity that is essential to containing future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases, by building skills among health care workers and supporting research to identify locally effective approaches.
Many African schools active in the Ebola response are part of the U.S.-sponsored Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) network, established to increase the quality and quantity of health care workers on the continent. In just five years, the schools have revamped their curricula, enrolled many more students, retained faculty with incentives such as research opportunities and broadened outreach to rural areas. This expansion has enhanced Africa's ability to respond to Ebola.
Photo by Richard Lord for Fogarty
U.S. support for medical education and research
in sub-Saharan Africa has enhanced the region's
"MEPI schools are working in different ways to control and prevent not only the Ebola epidemic but others that may occur in the future," according Dr. Francis Omaswa, principal investigator at MEPI's Coordinating Center.
MEPI-supported capacity has contributed to Africa's Ebola battle in various ways. South Africa's Stellenbosch University, for example, has offered a weeklong course on Ebola and several of its faculty joined a consortium investigating whether immune plasma from Ebola survivors can benefit ill patients. In Mozambique, medical school faculty devised a public brochure describing Ebola symptoms, transmission modes, prevention and treatment, while a key training hospital held special sessions for medical residents and students on Ebola diagnosis and disease recognition, personal protective materials and related topics.
Meanwhile, Ghana's MEPI program helped prepare the country's frontline health professionals to identify, diagnose and treat Ebola patients, as well as educate the general public about the disease. The MEPI team helped develop a long-term national strategy for Ebola and is supporting the health system assume its new role as WHO coordinating hub for West Africa. Finally, Nigeria's MEPI effort hosted several Ebola-related lectures and training workshops to raise public awareness and inform the health care community.
"The MEPI network includes a large group of scientists who can contribute to prevention and control of epidemics in the region," Omaswa observed. "It can also set up links with concerned parties within the health systems to help establish solid resource centers that will outlive the outbreaks and deliver sustainable support to the region."
MEPI is funded by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and NIH, and is administered by Fogarty and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).