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Geographic information helps provide public health intelligence at mass gatherings

MEDICALNEWS TODAY                                                            Jan. 6, 2015

Infectious diseases are one of the many health issues that worry the organizers of mass gatherings, such as the Hajj and the World Cup. Geographers' tools of the trade can help event organizers to better plan, monitor and respond timely to such eventualities. The ways in which geographers gather, analyze, and visualize information provide health officials with clearer pictures of the transport routes and environmental factors that may further the spread of viruses to and from the attendees' home countries.

In Chapter 3 of the new book Health, Science and Place: A New Model, geographer and biologist Dr. Amy Blatt explains how geographic information is used for disease surveillance at mass gatherings.
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Read excerpt from the book,chapter 3.

by Dr. Amy Blatt

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Ebola survivors in west Africa to share stories via mobile app

REUTERS                                                            Jan. 4, 2015   

Ebola survivors in the three west African countries worst hit by the epidemic will share their stories through a mobile application to be launched on Monday, in a Unicef-backed campaign to inform and fight stigma around the disease.

...Although many people have survived the disease, they still face rejection and stigma from their communities, while the virus continues to spread due to lack of information and denial, according to the WHO and other health organisations.

The campaign, called #ISurvivedEbola, is funded by US philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft Paul G Allen’s foundation which has committed $100m to fight the disease. Unicef, the UN children’s agency is collaborating in the project.

Survivors in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia will be given smartphones and will document their stories and exchange tips on how to cope with it for a mobile app which will be available to the public, the backers said in a statement.

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Story Behind the Story: How Times Reporters Unraveled the Ebola Epidemic

NEW YORK TIMES                                               Jan. 2, 2015

Celia W. Dugger, deputy science editor for health, has helped to coordinate the Times’s coverage of Ebola. She edited a feature published Tuesday on the origin of this year’s Ebola outbreak, and shares how the story came together after months of reporting.

As the Ebola epidemic gained velocity this fall, spreading fear and death across one of the world’s poorest regions, I kept coming back to the same questions: How did this one get away? How did the experts — and the media, including editors like me, for that matter — miss the signs in the spring that this time would be catastrophically different from the nearly two dozen prior outbreaks? Why did the most seasoned Ebola hands — men and women who had repeatedly risked their lives battling this lethal foe — let their guard down and scale back in May just when the virus might have been throttled?

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Automated mobile phone service hopes to stop spread of Ebola in west Africa

THE GUARDIAN  by Mark Anderson                                                                    Dec. 30, 2014

People in rural areas of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea battling Ebola could be helped by an automated phone service that offers advice about how to avoid contracting the virus.

Startup company Halt!Ebola is using “robocalling” to reach people where information hotlines are not being used.

The company is trying to acquire mobile phone numbers from the networks operating in these regions to enable them to make the calls. When people answer, an audio message with information and advice about the virus is played back.

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How Ebola Roared Back

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SES joins consortium to fight Ebola with mobile lab

BIOPREPWATCH   by Shaun Zinck                                                 Dec. 26, 2014

SES, a satellite communications company, announced on Monday that it was teaming up with a collaborative group that runs a mobile laboratory to improve response time in the fight against the Ebola virus.

B-LiFE, a mobile laboratory, is run through a consortium between the public, private and academic sectors in Belgium. The group is trying to increase identification of diseases for a quicker response to crisis situations such as the Ebola epidemic.

“B-LiFE demonstrates the relevance of satellite for medical purposes,” Gerhard Bethscheider, managing director of SES TechCom, said. ...It is anticipated that the lab, which left Belgium on Saturday, will be stationed at an Ebola treatment center in Guinea that was set up by ALIMA, a French non-government organization

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Where Ebola Has Closed Schools, A Radio Program Provides A Faint Signal Of Hope

NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO by Ofeibea Quist-Arcton        Dec. 25, 2014

MONROVIA -- Working with UNICEF and another nonprofit, Talking Drum, in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, the government aims to provide lessons to children across the country, hit by the Ebola outbreak. Most schools closed this past summer and will likely remain closed for months....

                            Florence Allen Jones, right, is part of the education ministry's classes-by-radio team.

The radio classes are broadcast on local stations, and on United Nations radio. The Education Ministry acknowledged that the broadcasts are not reaching nationwide. In any case, few children in Liberia's 15 counties have access to a radio, or even the batteries to power one. Wealthy parents have hired home tutors for their kids, but many other youngsters have taken to peddling petty goods, like trinkets or donuts, on the streets of Monrovia, to try to earn a little money for their families while schools are closed.

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Sierra Leone Urges Safe Burials to Stem Ebola

ASSOCIATED PRESS  by SARAH DiLORENZO                       Dec. 21, 2014
DAKAR, Senegal --The radio announcement is chilling and blunt: "If I die, I want the deaths to stop with me."

Dr. Desmond Williams continues: "I want to give my family the permission to request a safe and dignified, medical burial for me."

The announcement is part of a campaign to urge Sierra Leoneans to abandon traditional burial practices, such as relatives touching or washing the dead bodies, that are fueling the spread of Ebola in the West African country.

 Officials are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to clamp down on traditional burials in Sierra Leone, where Ebola is now spreading fastest. The head of the Ebola response has even threatened to jail people who prepare the corpses of their loved ones.

Williams, a Sierra Leonean-American doctor who works for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, took to the airwaves last month as part of efforts to encourage people to avoid dangerous burial practices. Now similar pledges have been made by prominent Sierra Leoneans, including the communications director for the Health Ministry, pop stars and radio DJ's.

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Ebola: limitations of correcting misinformation

THE LANCET                                                                                                              Dec.18, 2014
Communication and social mobilisation strategies to raise awareness about Ebola virus disease and the risk factors for its transmission are central elements in the response to the current Ebola outbreak in west Africa.1 A principle underpinning these efforts is to change risky "behaviour" related to "traditional" practices and "misinformation".

 Populations at risk of contracting Ebola virus disease have been exhorted to “put aside, tradition, culture and whatever family rites they have and do the right thing”....Such messages follow logically from clinical and epidemiological framings of contagion.

They pay little attention, however, to the historical, political, economic, and social contexts in which they are delivered....

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Inside the cultural struggle to stamp out Ebola

A front-line report from Sierra Leone examines efforts to change hearts and minds in West Africa’s villages.

NATURE   by Erika Check Hayden                                                                             Dec. 17, 2014

Bombali District, Sierra Leone --Since September, the Ebola virus has stalked the villages and towns along the Kamakwie–Makeni Road, a rutted, red-dirt track that serves as the main artery for a string of villages in the western part of Sierra Leone’s Bombali District.

Yeli Sanda, a village just a few kilometres outside the district’s capital city of Makeni, was the first place to be hit. Over the following months, more than 40 people in the settlement of about 700 became infected; 22 died. In November, the virus infected a woman in Tambiama, about 11 km up the road. A friend who visited her acquired the virus and carried it another 1.5 km to the village of Mayata. She and at least five others there have died.

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