students Tonya Campbell, Courtney Smith and Garvin Leung spearheaded the delivery of Ebola protective equipment to Sierra Leone (photo by Nicole Bodnar)

U of T public health students send Ebola equipment to Sierra Leone hospitals

Front-line health workers in Sierra Leone now have protective equipment, thanks to three University of Toronto public health students.

Working with Save the Children  – a global NGO dedicated to children’s rights – three first-year epidemiology students in U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health successfully facilitated the delivery of masks, gloves, disinfectant and other much-needed Ebola protective supplies to Njala University in Bo, Sierra Leone.

“The growing mentality is that the Ebola outbreak is over. It’s not,” said Courtney Smith, a member of the occupational preparedness subgroup of the Ebola Working Group and master of public health candidate in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH).

“To stop the outbreak, it’s crucial to support occupational preparedness in the countries most affected,” Smith continued, noting that December 2014 marked the one-year anniversary of the first identified Ebola case linked to the current outbreak.  

Smith and her Occupational Preparedness subgroup peers, Garvin Leung and Tonya Campbell, reached out to Workplace Health Without Borders (WHWB) in late October with the support of Professors Ross Upshur, head of the School’s clinical public health division, and David Fisman. WHWB – a local NGO led by DLSPH lecturer Marianne Levitsky – was approached by Njala University with a list of needs.  

“With so many different hospitals and organizations asking for help, we wanted to be a voice for Njala University and help it acquire the protective equipment it desperately needed,” said Leung, adding that Njala University has teaching hospitals in the hardest hit areas of the Ebola outbreak.

With a tangible goal in mind, the group then contacted 10 Canadian NGOs to see who could purchase or donate the supplies. Save the Children Canada responded within weeks and connected the group with their Sierra Leone office, which shipped the supplies to Njala University the first week of January. 

“On behalf of the staff and students of the School of Community Health Sciences… I wish to express my profound gratitude and appreciation for the positive response of all partners to our request,” wrote Bashiru Koroma, dean of Njala University’s School of Community Health Sciences in an e-mail to DLSPH’s Ebola Working Group.

“Our professors stress that public health is an interdisciplinary field. This has given us first-hand, global experience collaborating with people in different sectors towards one common goal: containing the West African Ebola outbreak,” said Campbell, who also works at Toronto East General Hospital as an infection prevention and control data analyst.

The DLSPH Ebola Working Group also has a community outreach subgroup that hosts a bi-weekly Lunch and Learn series. The first event, on Friday, January, 16 (12-1pm, Health Sciences Building, Room 108), will feature Professors Upshur and Fisman discussing the Ebola outbreak.

Learn more about how DLSPH faculty, students and alumni are helping curb the Ebola outbreak.

Nicole Bodnar is a writer with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.



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