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Students, alumni react to Ebola epidemic

With the recent spread of Ebola from West Africa to America and Spain, Princetonians on and off-campus are reacting to news of the epidemic and are planning to get more involved in the relief effort.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has explained that thecurrent Ebola outbreak is the largest ever, and the University has sent out several email announcements to students asking that any student or faculty member who has been to West Africa in the recent past immediately contact University Health Services.

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Ebola virus disease, formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is severe and often fatal, istransmitted to people from wild animals, and spreads by transmission from person to person.

Shirley Gao ’13, who works with the non-profit Wellbody Alliance, said that many alumni who went on to become doctors and nurses are coming to Africa to help fight Ebola on the ground. She explained that others are doing lab work to combat the illness through scientific breakthroughs, and still others like herself are working through organizations like Wellbody to provide support to the affected region. Wellbody runs a primary care clinic in the Kono District of Sierra Leone.

Rachel Sealfon ’08 is working at Sabeti Lab in Boston, which has been doing sequencing work concerning Lassa fever virusand Ebola virus in West Africa for around a past decade. Her work contributes to the lab’s efforts to predict and identify areas of selection and mutation within the genomes of the viruses.

Sealfon declined to comment.

Another alumnus who is working with the Wellbody Alliance, Storm Portner ’14, explained that Wellbody takes a social justice approach and believes that healthcare is a human right.

The Wellbody clinic provides free care to as many patients as possible. While the clinic is currently seeing fewer patients because the public is wary of clinics and hospitals due to the Ebola outbreak, Portner said they are still providing all of their services while ensuring the staff is safe.

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They are not seeing Ebola patients, but they are engaged in contact-tracing, screening and communications with local health officials to combat the epidemic, he explained.

“What is surprising is the lack of aid from the international community,” Portner said.

Reflecting on his own work, on his background at the University and on why he believes people should make the time and effort to care, Portner said that with the right attitude and efforts, the spread of Ebola can be contained.

“When you think in the nation’s service and in the world’s service, this is a terrible disease that can be easily prevented with better health systems,” Portner said.

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Another alumnus working with the Wellbody Alliance, Raphael Frankfurter ’13, left for Sierra Leone on Tuesday in order to work on the ground with the clinic there.

While some alumni are heading to Africa to help, there are students who want to help but feel unable to find the means to do so.

Katie Kavanaugh ’18, who isfrustrated by what she said was people’s ignorance and lack of concern about West Africa,said she does not think students on campus are doing enough to help.

After spending a gap year abroad in Senegal as part of the Bridge Year Program, she said that she feels like this issue is one she personally identifies with. She saidshe thinks of her host familywhen she reads stories about Ebola victims.

Kavanaugh said she tried to reach out to campus organizations like Engineers Without Borders, which focuses on international development projects,and GlobeMed, which advocates for global health equity,to see if they might be able to help her put together a fundraising effort, but she said she has not had any luck yet.

“I just don't know how people can read those stories and not do something to help, just based on common, shared humanity,” Kavanaugh said. “It's so frustrating.”

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