UNBC prof helps combat ebola

A UNBC professor is heading to West Africa to help combat the Ebola virus at Ground Zero of the outbreak

A UNBC professor is heading to West Africa to help combat the Ebola virus by training and educating local healthcare workers at Ground Zero of the outbreak.

On Tuesday, Greg Thomas-Reilly, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at the Prince George campus, flew to Europe for safety training before heading off to Yekepa in northern Liberia.

“It’s a moral compulsion, if you will, that this is the right place and right time for me to be there,” said Thomas-Reilly.

For the next six months (in six-week rotations), Thomas-Reilly will be part of a team that will be training local healthcare authorities in the area on Ebola prevention, control and protection.

“The national healthcare teams in Liberia are doing a tremendous job, but they haven’t had the facility to give them the education around how best to respond to a pathogen like Ebola,” he said, adding that he will be teaching them the best ways to protect themselves with personal protective equipment and preventing against cross-contamination.

Thomas-Reilly, who joined the university earlier this year, has extensive experience with communicable diseases having worked on HIV in Ethiopia, SARS in Toronto and multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis.

“I have no illusions that I’m going to run in and save the day. I’ve done enough work in different countries to know that there’s a lot of expertise all around the world,” he said. “I just want to be a partner to my colleagues, the health care providers in Liberia, to help tackle this in whatever ways we can.”

Thomas-Reilly acknowledged the dangers associated with the trip, but said he won’t be paralyzed with fear.

“With any infectious pathogen, you have to exercise your due diligence and you have to have a certain level of respect which is rooted in a degree of fear, which is tempered with knowledge and evidence and data,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to work with anyone who doesn’t have that element of respect in their work practice.”

He believes that Canada should continue to approach the Ebola outbreak from a place of “reasoned thought,” to avoid what he calls “ebolaphobia.”

“The risks are quite low in Canada. But the focus needs to be on building capacity around the world so that we come to see that what’s happening in places as far off as West Africa, they have ripple effects,” said Thomas-Reilly.

At Northern Health’s latest board meeting, they were briefed on the preparedness plans regarding the Ebola outbreak, as well as the work being done to address rural physician recruitment challenges.