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Home > News > Global Health Matters > Global Health Matters July /August 2022 > Fogarty’s continuing support of Ebola research is a point of pride Print

Fogarty’s continuing support of Ebola research is a point of pride

July / August 2022 | Volume 21 Number 4

The focus of this edition of Global Health Matters is the scientific lessons learned since the devastating Ebola outbreak of 2014–2016. Unlike the previous known occurrences of Ebola, the outbreak which began in 2014 struck countries recovering from conflict and lacking the health infrastructure and numbers of trained personnel to effectively deal with the problem. When the epidemic ended more than two years later, suspected and confirmed cases rose above 28,600, while reported deaths topped 11,300.

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The impact of this outbreak on West Africa was momentous. Initially, health officials and care providers in the hardest hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were overwhelmed by the record numbers of people sickened by the hemorrhagic virus and could pay little attention to studying the epidemiology of the outbreak. Arguably, African officials were slow to raise the alarm, other nations slow to respond, but eventually significant resources and supplies were mobilized. In time, experts from the region and around the world helped track the outbreak, study the disease, and test possible vaccines or treatments to contain it.

From the start, Fogarty recognized that the greatest contribution we could make would be a commitment to ongoing, long-term strengthening of research capacity and health systems in West Africa through training. We believe even a modest investment in training—of health care workers, doctors, and researchers—can provide the tools low-resource countries require to halt outbreaks and prevent the need for large-scale emergency efforts like the one assembled to fight Ebola. Fogarty understands that preparedness is always less costly than an emergency response.

In the years since the Ebola crisis ended—in the years when most others looked away—we have continued to support the development of West African health infrastructure through training. One Fogarty supported program unites Boston University (BU), University of Liberia (UL), and regional affiliates. The BU-UL Partnership to Enhance Emerging Epidemic Virus Research in Liberia includes a bootcamp to develop basic, translational, and clinical research skills in Liberia. From there, select candidates pursue an advanced degree at BU before returning to Liberia to conduct research projects that build sustainability while retaining intellectual capital in-country.

Another of our programs, the Partnership for Research in Emerging Viral Infections-Sierra Leone, forms a collaboration among the University of Sierra Leone College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, Kenema Government Hospital, Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, and Tulane University. This training partnership emphasizes clinical and translational research focused on the delivery of quality health services for endemic viral hemorrhagic fevers, like Lassa fever. The intention is to develop the capability to conduct clinical trial research during epidemics and outbreaks, as was done during the Ebola crisis.

University of Bamako in Mali, University of Conakry in Guinea, Johns Hopkins University, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases joined forces to create the Mali-Guinea Emerging Infectious Disease Research Training Program. This Fogarty-supported endeavor provides high-level training in field and laboratory epidemiology, translational clinical research, public health emergency management, and genomic characterization and surveillance of emerging pathogens.

Finally, our Training in Clinical and Epidemiological Research for Liberia program coalesces University of California San Francisco, the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, the University of Liberia, and Partnership for Research on Ebola Virus in Liberia, an NIH initiative. This four-part alliance trains Liberian early-career investigators who are focused on epidemiological research of Ebola, acute febrile illness and malaria. The curriculum strengthens research skills in Liberia while improving the country’s ability to respond to infectious disease threats.

West Africa’s Ebola epidemic showed all the world the value of training scientists and research professionals who will then be capable of studying and responding to future emerging infectious disease outbreaks. Meanwhile, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the training done in West Africa provided the foundation we hoped for. One example is Dr. Christian Happi, who, following the Ebola crisis, established a metagenomic platform that enabled his team to sequence the whole genome of the first SARS-CoV-2 in Africa. Global health security requires trained scientists and robust health and research systems across the globe. We at Fogarty are proud to contribute to this mission by continuously strengthening local health research through training.

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Updated August 12, 2022

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