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Evaluating our Ebola response-CDC and Washington’s global health community

“I’ve never seen anything like this. How did you get all these people here?” That was the question from Dr. Tom Kenyon, Director of the Center for Global Health for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) at one of three meetings convened by WGHA a couple of weeks ago.

It’s something we are beginning to take for granted, but I was reminded once again that what seems obvious – the power of getting experts from differing worlds together to tackle a problem—doesn’t happen easily. And there is tremendous advantage in exploiting geographic connections to pull disparate players with distinct perspectives to contribute to solutions together.

A couple of weeks ago WGHA convened leaders and representatives from Congress, Microsoft, PwC, HDR, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Vulcan, PATH, Fred Hutch, the UW, World Vision and Medical Teams International. They came together to talk with the CDC about Ebola.

Ebola. Be honest… are you overloaded on the topic? Out of sight, out of mind. It has dropped from the headlines except when an American is involved, and I sense the urgency has dissipated. I hope, however, that you will read on. While Ebola has likely peaked in Liberia, it is rising in Guinea and there are new cases daily in Sierra Leone.

As important, the impact and effects from this outbreak extend far beyond the walls of the clinics in-country. Ebola has highlighted so many glaring weaknesses in health systems and response mechanisms – and not only in West Africa, but in the United States as well. It is clear that we need to take the lessons we are learning from this catastrophe and prepare for upcoming challenges. And the consensus is that there will be new and greater health challenges.

CDC is at the heart of the response and seeking input. Two weeks ago, their Ebola leaders Dr. Beth Bell and Dr. Tom Kenyon, met with Washington Global Health Alliance members and partners for a day of three remarkable convenings.

Our region is deeply engaged at every stage of need, from the immediate response on the ground to developing the right model to find, test and treat cases to strengthening communities’ ability to respond. More than 50 leaders and experts were involved in the day’s discussions.

Leaders from World Vision and Medical teams International shared challenges in Liberia and Sierra Leone with communication, the lack of facilities and having enough trained workers. University of Washington leaders talked about the devastating impact on health services unrelated to Ebola like the inability of women to deliver their babies in hospitals overrun by the virus. Experts from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH emphasized the need to address the response district by district as well as the critical need for stable and long-term funding so we can have domestic and international systems in place when the next hazard occurs, regardless of what it is.

So, if you aren’t working directly for a global health organization – or even if you are – what can you do? Phone or email your support for Public Health Emergency Preparedness for local public health departments to your state legislators and email your congressional representatives about continued federal support for CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for research and USAID.

If you have a few extra dollars, consider supporting the WGHA members working to address these challenges. Just because Ebola has largely dropped from sight in the media, don’t let it become out of mind for you.