This fall, the University of Nebraska Medical Center is scheduled to open a cutting-edge center for training, simulation and quarantine to prepare federal workers to address highly infectious diseases. Creation of the National Center for Health Security and Biopreparedness is timely and important, given the troubling new Ebola outbreak in Africa.
Five years ago, UNMC aided the international effort in West Africa to contain an Ebola epidemic that killed 11,000 people. Now, Ebola has taken hold in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. The threat is particularly dire because the main outbreak is in violence-torn Congolese regions dangerous for international aid workers. Public health efforts face challenges because of public distrust of the Congolese government and social media misinformation downplaying the Ebola threat.
The outbreak and containment challenges “should serve as a warning that infectious diseases are a continuing global threat, and our current public health tools are still inadequate,” three infectious disease specialists for UNMC/Nebraska Medicine wrote in a recent Midlands Voices essay.
As a result, the infectious disease initiative at UNMC and clinical partner Nebraska Medicine is taking on particular importance. UNMC received a $19.8 million federal grant for creation of the new biopreparedness center. A team of infectious disease experts from UNMC and Nebraska Medicine was in Uganda last year to train local health care workers in infection response and control.
During 2014-15, the med center treated three Ebola patients and monitored several others who were exposed but did not develop the disease. On Dec. 29 last year, an American doctor who had been treating patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo arrived in Omaha, where he completed the last 14 days of a 21-day monitoring period in UNMC’s biocontainment unit.
The current Ebola outbreak raises major worries and challenges, but it’s encouraging to see Nebraska contribute in such important ways in the global fight against these diseases.