Articles and Updates

UNMC officials take expertise to Uganda during Ebola outbreak

By Julie Anderson | Omaha World-Herald | Nov. 11, 2022, Updated Dec. 20, 2022


Health experts from Nebraska recently traveled to Uganda to assist local health officials in dealing with a surge in Ebola cases.

A team of three infectious diseases experts and an associate from the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security worked with the Ugandan health ministry to try to develop new, sustainable solutions for infection prevention and control during Ebola outbreaks.

 Separately, Dr. Ali Khan, dean of UNMC’s College of Public Health, went to the country to work as a consultant as part of the World Health Organization’s Ebola response.


 Uganda has recorded 135 confirmed Ebola cases and 53 deaths, Reuters reported, based on data from the country’s health ministry. The nation’s education ministry announced Tuesday that it would close schools Nov. 25, two weeks before the end of the school year.


 The exercise will not involve transporting live patients, but a manikin, or medical mannequin. In separate simulations, a manikin at the Quilcene Fire Department will be conveyed in an ambulance and an Airlift Northwest helicopter – each outfitted with an ISTARI prototype transport envelope. Medical transports of extended durations will give the crews a chance to work with the manikin through the device, and then the manikin will be returned to a simulated emergency department back at Quilcene Fire Department.


The purpose is to get immediate feedback on the device’s ease of use and perceived value from emergency medical technicians, flight crew, medical staff and infectious-diseases specialists.

The ISTARI devices were designed to facilitate patient care and limit infection and viral spread in distinct settings: during pre-hospital transports, in established healthcare facilities such as emergency departments, and in low-resource areas and field hospitals.

Over the past two years, Evans and colleagues at UW Medicine have worked with Broadhurst, UNMC and Otherlab to test devices, leading to design improvements and to partnerships with pre-hospital providers.

The test is funded by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiative aimed at strengthening infection-control protocols.

The outbreak is caused by the Sudan strain of the virus, which has no approved vaccine or treatment.

 While no Ebola cases have been reported recently in the United States or any other nation outside Uganda, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday advised American health officials to watch for patients who have traveled to Uganda within the past three weeks and have possible symptoms of the virus, such as fever, headache, fatigue and unexpected bleeding.


 The U.S. last month restricted arrivals of travelers from Uganda to five airports where they can undergo screening.


Dr. James Lawler, a co-executive director of the Global Center, said the UNMC team is working on some innovative technologies that can be used for infection control and prevention.


The team also is hoping to recruit partners in the United States to build on what the team has begun in Uganda.


UNMC’s clinical partner, the Nebraska Medical Center, is home to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, which successfully treated Ebola patients during the 2014 West Africa outbreak that killed more than 11,300 people.


Lawler said that those on the team also want to make sure that whatever they do in Uganda can be sustained. The aim is to increase Uganda’s capacity to address outbreaks.


 Among the approaches the team is looking at deploying are portable isolation units. Such devices are negative air pressure tents, with air filtered though HEPA-grade filters.


 When an outbreak occurs, Lawler said, it typically takes awhile for health officials to respond and bolster the response in outlying areas where health care facilities may struggle with caring for patients with highly dangerous pathogens. Having systems in place ahead of time can enhance a country’s ability to handle such events more quickly.


 Ugandan health officials now have developed the capacity to identify cases and get patients to isolation, Lawler said. The health ministry has established a robust patient management center and treatment unit in Mubende, which is at the center of the outbreak, and an effective system for referring patients to that center and providing isolation care until they receive test results.


The goal, he said, would be to optimize that response so it happens from the outset.


Using innovative tools that reduce health care facilities’ need to have large supplies of protective gear on hand would help make sure that capacity is already in place, Lawler said. Such tools also could reduce staffing demands.

Training also is a big part of such preparation, including using approaches that maximize efficiency. Lawler said the team hopes to return to Uganda to do more training. There also are people in the country who already have been trained who can train others.

Source: Omaha World Herald 

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