“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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