Ebola outbreak affects campus education in West Africa

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The ongoing Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia may delay scholarship by UC Berkeley students and professors in these areas.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, no faculty, staff or students are currently known to be in the affected countries. A UC Berkeley Sierra Leone study abroad program projected to be launched in 2016, though, may suffer some delay, according to those involved in planning the program. Mariane Ferme, a campus associate professor of anthropology, has postponed her sabbatical research in Sierra Leone due to the outbreak.

The Ebola outbreak began in March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1,440 suspected and confirmed cases of the Ebola virus and 826 deaths from it had been reported as of Wednesday. The CDC has warned against nonessential travel to the affected countries.

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“It’s clearly the worst outbreak we’ve had in terms of cases, number of deaths (and), more importantly, dispersion across multiple countries,” said Arthur Reingold, UC Berkeley professor of public health and head of the campus division of epidemiology.

On Thursday, a meeting was held to discuss a possible UC Berkeley study abroad program to Sierra Leone. Ferme would have discussed plans for the program with colleagues for sabbatical research, but because of the outbreak, she has put her plans on hold to leave for Sierra Leone in October.

“There is no existing program … (but) in light of the Ebola epidemic, plans to move forward are going to be delayed,” Ferme said in an email.

UC Berkeley alumna Susan Shepler, an associate professor at American University, is currently conducting research in Sierra Leone and was in Liberia in July.

“Although I am going about my normal activities for the most part, I am staying out of public transportation, and I’m not shaking hands with people,” Shepler said in an email.

Shepler said she noticed hand-washing stations “everywhere” and has heard a lot of talk about Ebola on the streets.

“There seems to be a lot more awareness, but a lot of misinformation as well,” Shepler said in an email. “There is also a lot of fatalism, with people saying ‘Whatever God has marked, that’s what will be. Our only hope is to pray to God.’ ”

Contact Octavia Sun at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @octavia_sun.