Faculty to discuss Ebola crisis risk, response Nov. 4

A panel of Western Carolina University faculty members, including an environmental health professor who has studied the spread and control of infectious agents such as Ebola for more than two decades, will take part in a discussion about the virus on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Part of WCU’s Global Spotlight Series, the event will be held in the auditorium of the Forsyth Building from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Burton Ogle

Burton Ogle

Faculty members Burton Ogle, Jen Schiff, Rebecca Dobbs and Saheed Aderinto will offer environmental health, political, geographic and historical perspectives of Ebola based on their expertise and participate in a question-and-answer session.

Ogle, director of WCU’s environmental health program, will discuss the risk of exposure and transmission of Ebola and prevention strategies. Ogle was consulted 25 years ago when a strain of Ebola was detected in monkeys in Reston, Virginia, and has researched the virus and the connection to infectious disease transmission protection and bioterrorism preparedness.

The primary transmission of Ebola is through direct contact with bodily fluids such as urine and blood and waste material such as feces, and the country’s health care facilities follow protocols that assume people are carriers of infectious disease and thus take action such as wearing protective clothing, masks, eye protection, gloves and other gear to reduce the risk of transmission, Ogle said.

“In the U.S., we have very little chance of contracting the disease,” he said.

The risk of anyone in the campus community having close contact with someone who has Ebola and contracting the illness is “miniscule,” he said.

Jen Schiff

Jen Schiff

Ogle anticipates there will be more isolated “travelers cases” similar to the recent situation in which a man who was exposed to Ebola in Liberia and traveled to Texas was diagnosed in the United States with Ebola. He died Oct. 8. Despite dozens of people having contact with the man and continuing to be monitored for symptoms by health authorities, as of Wednesday, Oct. 15, only two people – nurses who treated him directly – have been diagnosed with Ebola. An investigation is under way to discover how they were exposed and how safety could be further enhanced at all health care facilities to prevent such exposure.

Schiff, an assistant professor of political science and public affairs, will discuss which countries and organizations are supporting humanitarian efforts to help stop the spread of Ebola. In addition, she will speak about “why shutting down the borders won’t necessarily solve the problem,” and could do more long-term damage to countries battling the spread of Ebola and efforts to halt the spread of the virus, she said.

Dobbs, an instructor of geography, will talk about spatial patterns of the current Ebola outbreak and past outbreaks, the role of environmental changes such as deforestation and climate change in the current outbreak, and geographic considerations associated with human travel and interaction.

Rebecca Dobbs

Rebecca Dobbs

“Both local and global conditions matter in understanding the origin of the outbreak and its potential for broader diffusion,” said Dobbs.

Aderinto, an assistant professor of history with expertise in African history who is a native of Nigeria, will discuss the spread of Ebola in the context of African’s underdevelopment – a process he traces to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“The entrenchment of epidemic diseases, whether Ebola or HIV/AIDS, are obvious manifestations of poor medical facilities, illiteracy, politicization of knowledge, poverty across ethnicity, social class, gender and generation – all of which should be traced to colonialism, neo-colonialism and the corruption of African leaders,” said Aderinto. “Ebola – like HIV/AIDS – hit the poorest countries in Africa really hard because disease and disease control cannot be understood in isolation from the broader crisis of underdevelopment.”

David Dorondo, an associate professor of history with expertise in European military and political history and one of the panel organizers, said Ebola also is important in the discussion of national security, which is increasingly defined in terms broader than traditional military terms.

Saheed Aderinto

Saheed Aderinto

“Issues such as climate change, epidemic – or even pandemic – disease, water shortages, uncontrolled migration and others are appearing ever more frequently in the calculations of governments and the leadership of their armed forces,” he said.

Today’s armed forces are involved in supporting civilian aid agencies and humanitarian efforts including the fight to stop Ebola, and the reduction of military budgets in recent years could “hamstring some of the most effective ways to get massive aid to faraway places in rapid fashion,” he said.

The Global Spotlight Series is organized by Dorondo, Schiff and Niall Michelsen, associate professor of political science and public affairs. For more information, contact Michelsen at 828-227-3336.