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Nurses Are the Voice of Reason During an Epidemic

When an epidemic erupts, nurses can be the trusted voice of reason. Worcester State University [1] graduate nursing students understand this, and have hosted radio shows, led community campaigns, and raised money to fight the spread of Ebola.

Lovo Koliego-Narmah and Moses Makor, both graduate nursing students in the community/public health nursing clinical specialty track [2], answered the call of the Liberian Association of Worcester County [3] to raise awareness and reduce fears about how the disease spreads. Worcester County is home to more than 5,000 Liberians.

“The outbreak of Ebola has caused tremendous loss of lives and damage to the health-care sectors in the countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia,” says Makor, who works as a registered nurse at St. Vincent Hospital. “As a nurse who hails from Liberia, I found myself in the midst of this crisis and felt the calling to respond to it.”

He volunteered to serve as the liaison of the Ebola Crisis Response Technical Committee of the Liberia Association of Worcester County. Lovo Koliego-Narmah, co-chair of the Ebola Crisis Response Team, is also from Liberia.

Last year in West Africa, Ebola killed more than 8,000 people and infected more than 20,000.

Koliego-Narmah has assessed community needs, identified information gaps, and developed a public health education and information agenda on the Ebola outbreak. She is working with her team to generate funds and gather personal protective equipment and other supplies for health-care workers on the front lines.

Makor and Koliego-Narmah planned and participated in an event in November that brought together the local community. “A Night of Education and Celebration of the West African Community” raised $12,000 for the UMass Ebola Relief Fund. Dr. Richard Sacra of Holden, the Family Health Center of Worcester doctor who beat the deadly virus after returning to the United States from medical work in Liberia, was the keynote speaker.

Grace Williams, a native of Ghana and student in the M.S. in Nursing, community/public health nursing clinical specialty, program took to the air waves. “I host a radio show that’s heard all over the world and I explained the symptoms of an infected person and how important it is to not eat bush meat, wash hands, and limit the shaking of hands,” she says.

Williams’ radio show is aired internationally through the Internet and on 102.0 FM in Worcester. She also eases fears of an epidemic in the U.S. as well by talking about how it is, and is not, transmitted.

Associate Dean for Nursing Stephanie Chalupka, Ed.D., says that public health nurses are in the perfect position to educate the public. “With clinical knowledge and unique relationships to those they assist, public health nurses design and implement programs and policies that meet the needs of vulnerable populations,” she explains.

Students enrolled in WSU’s nursing community/public health clinical specialty track are urged to embrace a global health perspective to consider the social, economic, and environmental origins of health problems that manifest at the population level.

“The Ebola virus epidemic in Western Africa provided more than a teachable moment. It was a teaching necessity,” says Chalupka. “Class discussions examined the complex interconnections between the spread of the virus and the social and environmental determinants of health such as political, social, and public health systems in these countries, decades of conflict and civil war, and the accumulative burden of other diseases already prevalent among the population, such malaria and maternal mortality.”

This approach to nursing education is being recognized; the WSU graduate nursing program has been selected as one of six Curriculum Best Practices in Community/Public Health Nursing [4] in the United States by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

“Worcester State University offers a first-rate education, hence, the courses and professors have been a part of the motivation and passion that I carry for the work that is being done in the Ebola response,” Makor says.