Dr J. Soka Moses is a Liberian medical doctor and MSc Control in Infectious Diseases alumnus (2016) who worked in one of the biggest Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) in Monrovia, Liberia during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. In 2015 when transmission of the Ebola virus had significantly reduced, Soka enrolled onto the MSc Control of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, graduating from the programme in 2016. In this alumni profile, Soka shares his experience of working in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak, and tells us how his studies at the School are contributing to strengthening Liberia’s health system post-Ebola.
“I am a Liberian medical doctor currently working as a Site PI for the Ebola Survivor Natural History Study (Prevail III – Partnership for Research on Ebola Virus in Liberia). PREVAIL III is a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Liberian Ministry of Health, which aims to characterise the clinical sequelae seen in Ebola virus disease (EVD) patients.
I completed medical training at the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine, Liberia’s only medical school, in 2011. After graduating from medical school, I worked at both Redemption Hospital, the largest free public health hospital in Monrovia, and ELWA Hospital, a small missionary charity Hospital, for two years before the onset of the Ebola outbreak. During the outbreak, I worked in one of the biggest Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) in Monrovia where more than 600 patients were treated. My proudest moments during the Ebola Outbreak were always the discharge of survivors of the disease from the ETU and giving them hope for a new life again. The youngest of my survivors was a 4-month-old orphan. These survivors inspired me to return to the epicentre of the outbreak every day.
In 2015 when transmission of the Ebola virus had significantly reduced, I knew that I needed to obtain the best training available in public health and infectious disease epidemiology to contribute to health system strengthening in Liberia post-Ebola. The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has achieved a reputation as the global leader in public health. Its professors and staff are conducting cutting-edge biomedical research, while at the same time implementing high impact public health programmes and collaborations to improve global health. More recently, LSHTM staff, alumni and some of its students worked with us in Liberia during the Ebola response, and the School even started a free online course on Ebola to help people involved in the Ebola response. This type of training that enables you to make a measurable impact on people’s health is what I wanted; the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine was therefore the natural choice.
When I started at the School, I had just completed 14 months of intensive and exhausting work during the Ebola response in my home town of Monrovia. The learning experience at the School was different from what I was used to in Liberia. There was so much to learn, which required hard work and learning to optimize my time at the School. It was a triple learning process – learning the required lessons; learning to navigate the latest technology used at the School to enhance training, including the computer software programs, online learning tools, databases and libraries; and learning to live in London. I overcame these challenges through my energy and resilience and my passion for what I was learning; my ability to work in study groups and create true and lasting friends were also very helpful.
The year I spent at the school was an exciting experience that offered some really unique opportunities. The most memorable opportunity was when I participated in the launch of the Harvard School Global Health and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine panel report on the global health response to Ebola in November 2015.
I made great friends at LSHTM and built good relationships with some of the professors at the School. I learned to work and study in groups, which help me to understand all the course materials quickly. It is amazing how we bonded very quickly in spite of the multicultural diversity; life in London became enjoyable and the relationships I made continue to get stronger.
My tutor, Professor Jimmy Whitworth, was very supportive he was always willing to make time for me even on short notice. He understood my interests and provided great guidance that aligned with that interest. The library at the school offered a calm and beautiful research experience. My time in the beautiful and friendly city of London became a memorable period of my life.
There is so much happening in my country now to strengthen the health system. The MSc in Control of Infectious Diseases has given me the skills to contribute to this process. Currently, I work with Liberian researchers and globally renowned research scientist from NIH and the NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to conduct innovative epidemiologic research to understand the chronic sequelae of EVD faced by survivors of the disease. This cutting-edge research will provide a new understanding of the epidemiology and biological risk factors associated with EBOV persistence in body fluids of male EVD survivors and sexual transmission of EBOV.
I have led public health activities on semen testing and safe sexual behavioral counselling of male EVD survivors to mitigate the risk of re-emergence of the outbreak through sexual transmission. The information generated is very important in supporting public health services for Ebola survivors. I heard that the Zika response is now following the same public health model to test men semen. Our work is having an impact on the health of thousands of communities. Thanks to the training at the School, I can work to generate and use evidence to improve public and global health.
I have learned that with some support from health workers in Liberia, health workers in Sierra Leone will be able to improve the quality of care they provide. Indeed, the last sporadic cases of EVD were contained without secondary transmission, thanks to the training and support we received from colleagues internationally. Infectious disease outbreaks can happen anytime, anywhere and can affect anyone, whether affluent or poor, young or old. A poorly prepared health workforce, and lack of the appropriate public health systems early in the response were big challenges. When the health system was fragile, a containable disease became an epidemic with devastating effects on human lives, the economy and public systems. We must strengthen our local capacity, public health systems, and community participation.
My ambition is to become a leader in global health and epidemiology of infectious diseases. My interest is crosscutting; including other hemorrhagic viral fevers (Lassa and Yellow fever), Hepatitis B virus infection and HIV/AIDS and antimicrobial resistance (AMR), all of which are major issues facing my Country. I intend to pursue a DrPH at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. This additional training will solidify my skills to achieve my professional interests and goals. My goal moving forward is to continue to support health system strengthening to prevent epidemics in the future in Liberia and other parts of Africa and support information sharing and awareness, capacity building and engage in cross-border collaborative research and epidemic intelligence.
The School is the global leader in public health, epidemiology and tropical medicine. My advice to current students is to seize this privileged opportunity to tap into the rich wealth of knowledge at the school, try to create relationships with other students and professors in the School and become part of the growing niche of public health champions in the world. Each student and professor in the school brings a unique and rich perspective, which further adds to the learning experience. Make your tutor your personal friend. The professors in the school are very supportive and offer guidance with research, they also share their research findings and connect students with additional support including special services. Try the tutorials, which will offer you special skills in different software packages, navigate the learning tools, and don’t forget to enjoy London!
J. Soka Moses is one of the main characters in the film Unseen Enemy, a documentary on why in the 21st century we are experiencing a rash of diseases that were once only outbreaks, but have now become full-blown epidemics.
To learn more about the work of J. Soka Moses, you can read some of his publications featured in the CDC and the Lancet.
If you have any questions or comments for Soka, please email or write your feedback in the comments section below.