University Of Florida Panel Discusses Ebola Epidemic

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University of Florida medical anthropologist Sharon Abramowitz calls for a culturally appropriate intervention in Liberia in response to the Ebola outbreak. Abramowitz addressed the crowd at an Ebola forum in Pugh Hall at UF in Gainesville, Fla., on Wednesday, October 8, 2014.
University of Florida medical anthropologist Sharon Abramowitz calls for a culturally appropriate intervention in Liberia in response to the Ebola outbreak. Abramowitz addressed the crowd at an Ebola forum in Pugh Hall at UF in Gainesville, Fla., on Wednesday, October 8, 2014.” credit=”Christina Callicott / WUFT News

As concern over Ebola grows in the U.S. and other countries, the University of Florida hosted a panel discussion on Wednesday night with four faculty members on the epidemic in West Africa.

“What universities do best is create knowledge,” Leonardo Villalon, Dean of the UF International Center said. “They do so by understanding and discussing complex situations and then sharing that knowledge. Our most important role now as a University is to do exactly that.

The panel consisted of Dr. Paul Psychas, assistant professor of community health and family medicine; Sharon Abramowitz, assistant professor of anthropology; Timothy Nevin, a visiting professor in the Department of History; and Jill Sonke, director of the Center for Arts in Medicine. Villalon moderated the discussion.

The main consensus among the four was that community mobilization, both in the African communities as well as in the U.S. would be a tremendous help to curbing the epidemic.

“One of the keys in controlling this epidemic is getting the youth and the rest of the community involved,” Nevin said.

He has worked in Liberia and stated that the emphasis certain African cultures place on touching used in greetings and burial ceremonies is a large factor in the spread of the virus.

Psychas, who has also worked with Ebola in Africa thinks that the virus does not have a high chance of spreading in the U.S. because of the difference in the reasons Nevin highlighted, as well as the medical systems in place.

“It would be like a spark in a damp meadow,” Psychas said. “It will spark but it won’t catch fire.”

Another point panelists touched on was how the UF community can prepare for a potential spread of the virus.

“This is obviously a humanitarian crisis; I’d love to see fundraising,” Psychas said. “To collect stuff is just a burden for students and the countries they send it to. Cash is the way to go.”

Students can also help by informing themselves and peers about Ebola, being aware of the disease and the potential risks, and thinking about it in terms of a global community, Jill Sonke stated in the discussion.

The discussion lasted two hours and was held in Pugh hall. About 150 UF faculty, students and local community members were in attendance.

About Kelly Audette

Kelly is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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