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UofL professor in Sierra Leone helping those affected by Ebola

Muriel Harris has family in country

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Sept. 2, 2014) — Muriel Harris, PhD, associate professor, Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Louisville School of Public Health & Information Sciences has joined a women’s group in Sierra Leone that supports women and children who have been affected by Ebola.

Muriel Harris.
Muriel Harris.

Harris, who was visiting family in Freetown , has been unable to leave the country because of the threat of the virus.

“We have lost more than 60 members of the health profession (doctors and nurses) and most of them have left behind children,” Harris said. “There also are ambulance drivers and janitors who have also been infected and died.”

Harris’ group plans to put together 120 care packages of toiletries for health care workers in Kenema and Kailahun, both epicenters for the disease and the primary treatment centers.

“Our group also will begin the much more long-term task of ensuring that girls are supported to get at least a high school education, and helping their mothers increase earning power through a range or programs and projects,” she said.

In addition, Harris has been involved in health promotion through infection prevention education and early recognition of the Ebola disease. She also is involved in other public health related work, with plans underway to design a study to understand some of the issues that have contributed to many of the deaths.

“The global nature of this epidemic is unfolding before our eyes and the predictions for its spread are almost impossible to determine,” she said. “Without containment, it could be very far reaching given the porousness of country borders, the free movement of individuals across countries, as well as the movement of people by air and sea. The potential of spreading the virus is great, but public health approaches over the course of the 40-year history of this disease are well tried.”

“The challenge with this epidemic is its very fast-moving nature, and its impact on very culturally different populations with very different responses,” she said. “This has limited the ability of the public health and the clinical communities to be as effective as they need to be. It is clear this epidemic requires an international response given the very weak and fragile infrastructure in the countries where health care workers and the general public are dying at unprecedented numbers.”