“Highlighting” the Fight Against Ebola

Kevin Tyan, Jason Kang, and Katherine Jin, founders of Kinnos. (Photo credit: Columbia Engineering/Tim Lee Photographers)

By Guest Contributor: Andrew Cha

In 2014, the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone suffered the worst outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus since the disease’s discovery in 1976. Due to local poverty and the lack of public health infrastructure, the pandemic spread quickly, with one thousand new cases every week, twenty-eight thousand cases in total, and over eleven thousand deaths.

The Ebola epidemic triggered a worldwide response. The United States committed to the largest sum for assistance and relief efforts of any country with its appropriation of 5.4 billion dollars to fight the outbreak. The US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Center for Diseases Control (CDC), and the Department of Defense were all mobilized to set up a response infrastructure on the ground to contain the outbreak. At the international level, the United Nations and the World Health Organization coordinated a global response to the Ebola outbreak, designating it the “number one global crisis for the United Nations.” The World Bank also pledged a two hundred thirty million dollar aid package for affected countries in West Africa.

The sheer scale of the US and UN response to the Ebola crisis was critical to getting the pandemic under control, but some of the most innovative and beneficial proposals to combat the epidemic arose from the minds of some innovative Asian-American millennials. The United States Agency for International Development sponsored a “Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge,” in 2014 in which citizens from across the nation could propose new ideas to battle Ebola. Three Columbia University students, Jason Kang, Kevin Tyan, and Katherine Jin, were selected from over fifteen hundred applicants, for their invention called “Highlight.”

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26-year-old nurse Nina Pham confirmed as first case of US-transmitted Ebola

26-year-old Nina Pham, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian, is the first US-transmitted case of Ebola. (Photo credit: WFAA)

Last week, Thomas Eric Duncan — a Texas man who contracted Ebola while travelling overseas — died, becoming the first fatality as a result of the virus on US soil. Questions are already being raised about doctors’ handling of Duncan’s case: Duncan first became symptomatic on September 26th when he arrived in the ER of Texas Health Presbyterian with a 103-degree fever, but was inexplicably sent home even after doctors were notified that Duncan had recently returned from Africa. Only upon his second visit to the hospital on September 28th was Duncan diagnosed with Ebola and quarantined for treatment; the circumstances of his treatment significantly enhanced the likelihood of an American outbreak.

In the wake of this failure in proper care, the CDC had placed over 50 people who had come into close contact with Duncan under supervision. Today, the CDC reports that a nurse who worked in critical care at Texas Presbyterian Health has contracted Ebola. Although officials did not identify the nurse, family members have since revealed to media that the nurse is 26-year-old Nina Pham.

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