The Ebola Student Response

MSc Control of Infectious Diseases student Remy Hoek Spaans describes how coming to the School at the time of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa inspired her to set up an Ebola Student Response:

I remember the first week of October very well. Feeling slightly daunted to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable and experienced people I was surprised about their openness and willingness to share knowledge. Happy to have found so many people with the same interests, a popular topic of conversation in our hallways was the Ebola outbreak. At that time, the news was over-flowing with stories about Ebola and it was hard to keep track of what was actually happening in West Africa, especially with the media focusing on the Western perspective. While we were trying to adjust to our new lives in London, there was little time to reflect. Yet after a few weeks of settling in, I felt that as a CID student I could no longer ignore the impact of the outbreak. Not only are millions of lives affected, this outbreak may change the way global outbreak responses are going to be organized in the future. A future that we as students are preparing for.

Although we had a lecture on Ebola, I was still not completely satisfied. A feeling was starting to build up that we were just standing on the sidelines, witnessing what was happing, not able to contribute. I felt as if a lot of people were interested, but did not know how to turn words into action. I started to form ideas about a working group on Ebola. After testing the water with some of my new friends at the School, on Sunday I sat down with my laptop and wrote an outline of my ideas that I posted on Facebook.

The response of the students was overwhelming. Minutes after I had created an ESR Facebook page requests to join started to come in. Crazily excited I spent the whole afternoon accepting requests. But as Monday came closer and the number of students joining was reaching 70, I started to feel a little scared. I had been thinking about the group on a much smaller scale and the prospect of presenting my idea to such a large group of students was very intimidating!

On Monday morning, I realized I had little to be afraid of. Students were very supportive of my ideas and willing to share the workload. Around 30 students actually attended the first session, a manageable number which enabled us to include everyone in group discussions. Room bookings and setting up an e-mail list proved more challenging, but even that worked out eventually. Setting up the ESR was something I had never imagined myself capable of doing, but it is proving to be one of the best experiences in my year at the School.

During ESR meetings we start off with a newsfeed prepared by a student, critically summarizing the Ebola news of the past weeks. Then another student opens the discussion on a relevant Ebola related theme, sharing their perspective with the rest of the group. One of the great things about studying here is the variety of backgrounds you find among students, from doctors to anthropologists. And this is what we exploit during ESR meetings. Staff members of the School are intensively working on the outbreak and we try to support them where we can. We use our Facebook group as a way of keeping nearly 130 ESR members updated and encourage students to attend the Ebola seminar series organized by the School.

As I wanted the ESR meetings to continue over time, it was important to keep the momentum that was created after the first meeting. The first few weeks after our first meeting I spend many hours reading about Ebola and preparing the meetings, nearly forgetting my regular assignments.  With the activities of the ESR expanding, something had to change. The solution to this problem was as simple as asking for help. Rachel Thompson, who had already brought many interesting projects and ideas to meetings was happy to organize the meetings with me. Her support came just in time. Because shortly after, the ESR got a serious request from the WHO which needed all hands on deck….

Read more about the details of the WHO project and collaborations of the ESR in Rachel’s upcoming blog!

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