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South Carolina Professor Helps CDC Prepare Ivory Coast for Potential Ebola Epidemic

Côte d’Ivoire (i.e., Ivory Coast) has yet to see a single case of Ebola. But its proximity to countries that have seen outbreaks, including those with shared borders (i.e., Mali, Guinea, Liberia), led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recruit bilingual experts to help prepare the vulnerable French-speaking nation for the possibility of encountering its own epidemic.

By leveraging its relationship with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), CDC put out a call for a senior-level epidemiologist who could lead Ebola preparedness efforts for the Ivory Coast for six weeks. Dr. Eric Brenner, a retired medical epidemiologist with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and on-and-off adjunct associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health since the early 1980s, was on the short list.

As one of few individuals who possess the necessary skills to assist with this effort, Dr. Brenner felt compelled to step up, but he also had a personal connection to the area. He met his wife in the Ivory Coast when he was volunteering with the Peace Corps in the late 1960s. “I was from California, and she was from New York so we would likely have never met in the U.S.,” Dr. Brenner says. In addition to his interest in revisiting the backdrop of their courtship and his international expertise in training preparedness for infectious diseases, he was also drawn to the project for ethical reasons.

Getting out of the capital and working in the rural areas of the Ivory Coast highlights the resource inequalities between industrialized and developing nations. “What are the consequences for daily life when you don’t have running water or can’t access healthy food and medical supplies?” Dr. Brenner asks. “What are the consequences for public health?” These inequalities, or “social justice” as he refers to them, combined with the Ivory Coast’s shared borders with two of the three most affected countries to date (i.e., Liberia and Guinea) put the Ivory Coast at higher risk for an Ebola epidemic.

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