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UMMS, academic partners awarded $20M from CDC to prevent Ebola outbreak in Liberia

UMass Medical School Communications

October 06, 2015

UMass Medical School (UMMS) and its partners at Boston Children’s Hospital and other academic medical centers have been awarded $20 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand their efforts toward preventing another outbreak of Ebola or other highly contagious viruses in Liberia.

The two-year grant is an extension of the Ebola relief work conducted by the Academic Consortium Combating Ebola in Liberia (ACCEL), a UMMS-led group that has trained thousands of health care workers on infection control, implemented Ebola diagnostic testing and improved blood collection practices in the wake of the West African Ebola epidemic that sickened more than 10,000 and killed 4,800 people in Liberia last year. A $7.5 million grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s #TackleEbola campaign supported ACCEL’s initial relief efforts.

“There is no question the infection control and lab training efforts undertaken by UMass Medical School faculty in Liberia have saved lives,” said UMMS Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “The mission is particularly meaningful, given our nearly decade of service working side by side with the Liberian people to improve their health care system, and we are grateful to the CDC for providing the resources necessary to support these ongoing needs.”

“The CDC funding will support work with our Liberian colleagues to address significant gaps in health care worker training, physical infrastructure and health care consumables,” said Katherine Luzuriaga, MD, the UMass Memorial Health Care Chair of Biomedical Research; vice provost for clinical and translational science and global health; and director of the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science.  “Continued improvements in laboratory diagnosis and infection prevention and control practices will be critical to sustain control of Ebola and to prevent future infectious disease outbreaks.”

The CDC grant addresses three major objectives:

  • Reinforce and strengthen infection prevention and control practices in health care facilities through expanded training of health care workers across Liberia and through sustainable planning for personal protection equipment supply. ACCEL launched this training last year during the height of the Ebola crisis. More than 2,800 health care workers in 21 government hospitals in all 15 counties of Liberia underwent the training, which allowed the hospitals—overwhelmed by the epidemic—to reopen.

 

“By expanding training to all infectious disease control and applying it through innovative training methods that integrate infection control into the practice of emergency care, it is our goal that more than 5,000 Liberian health care workers across all hospitals in Liberia will have the ability to safely care for patients with the ongoing threat of Ebola still present,”said Michelle Niescierenko, MD, pediatric emergency physician and director of the Global Health Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Infection Prevention and Control Project Leader on the CDC grant.

 

  • Improve and expand public health laboratory systems and hospital diagnostic services to ensure rapid identification of Ebola and/or other contagions. ACCEL has supported Ebola testing in collaboration with the CDC and currently provides Ebola diagnostics in Tappita, which covers five of the 15 counties in Liberia. 

 

“What we are really trying to do now is move toward permanent and sustainable labs,” said Jeffrey Bailey, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at UMass Medical School, CDC grant principal investigator and laboratory project leader. The grant will support the manpower and training for Liberians to eventually run their own labs. “Workforce capacity is the biggest issue. Right now there are 20 or 30 registered technologists in the entire country of Liberia. We have more than that at our hospital in Worcester. We will provide training so that they have highly functioning labs. They will have the ability to conduct constant monitoring so that if there is a new outbreak of a new disease, they will have the capability to do the testing. This will ensure that we never again have an outbreak of the scale that we saw with Ebola.”

 

  • Strengthen blood collection and transfusion practices to safeguard against infectious disease spread through the blood supply. ACCEL is working with the Liberian Ministry of Health and the National Blood Safety Program to reopen blood donor centers that were shuttered by the epidemic.

UMass Medical School and ACCEL have a long history of helping Liberia rebuild its health care system, which began years before the Ebola crisis. Through their longstanding relationships with the Liberian Ministry of Health, the University of Liberia and the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons, ACCEL has provided clinical mentoring and teaching throughout the medical education system. UMMS has provided nurse and physician education and training in collaboration with the HEARTT (Health Education and Research through Training) Foundation; developed a pediatrics curriculum for a country with only two native-born practicing pediatricians; and worked with the Liberian Post-Graduate Council to develop a post-graduate training program.

ACCEL consortium members include UMMS, Boston Children’s Hospital, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, University of Maryland, University of Florida, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.