Daniel Tom-Aba, a Master of Public Health (MPH) student at the University of Roehampton, London Online, assists in the containment and eradication of the Ebola virus in Nigeria.
In October 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that Nigeria was free from the Ebola virus, 42 days after the country’s last infectious contact was given the all-clear.
This success story is credit to the well-trained government, medical and public health staff equipped with the resources and skills needed to construct isolation wards and designated Ebola treatment facilities, and develop technology to aid real-time tracing and mapping of links between chains of transmission.
In early 2014, as Ebola tightened its grip in West Africa, Daniel Tom-Aba found himself answering an urgent call for citizens to do what they could to combat the spread of the deadly virus. As Daniel’s background is in IT management, he accepted a new role developing IT solutions with the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) in Abuja.
In order to build software solutions that would significantly improve the organisation’s response to challenges, he needed to have a public health perspective. Meanwhile, in meetings, he was struggling to understand epidemiological terminology, jargon and acronyms. In May 2014, Daniel enrolled and started his first module on the Roehampton Online, Master of Public Health programme. Tailored to the needs of working professionals, this online masters degree course features an interdisciplinary approach that helps students to learn from one another and collaborate across geographical regions and disciplines.
It was in Lagos on 20 July 2014 that the first case of Ebola in Nigeria was detected. A gentleman travelling by plane from Liberia became progressively more ill during his flight. On arrival he was transferred to a private hospital where he was diagnosed and later died. The protocol officer who escorted him also fell victim to the virus, and subsequently four of the nine doctors and nurses who treated him also became infected and lost their lives.
Before embarking on his first module, Daniel engaged in a public health interactive simulation. This immediately gave him an overview of how a disease can spread and what services need to be deployed to stop it in its tracks, minimising negative impact on communities. Straightaway he was able to take this new-found understanding into meetings, and assist clients and colleagues more effectively.
As the Ebola outbreak worsened, his professional workload increased. During this time, he was unable to successfully complete the assessed component of his first MPH module, although he remained on the programme. Because of his extraordinary circumstances, he was given an opportunity to resubmit his final project. Additionally, he was encouraged to share his experiences with his peers in the virtual classroom. They discussed best practices based their own real-life experiences.
It wasn’t long before Daniel passed module one and was also promoted to the role of Senior Data Manager and Team Lead for the Polio and Ebola Emergency Operations Center.
Now Daniel is undertaking his sixth module, Contemporary Public Health Issues in a Global World. He has been commended by his faculty and encouraged to publish his research, which is an outcome he did not expect to achieve prior to graduation.
During this outbreak of the Ebola virus, Nigeria confirmed a total of 19 cases, of which seven died and 12 survived – leaving the case fatality rate at 40% – significantly lower than the 70% and higher rates seen elsewhere.
Daniel is proud of the knowledge he has gained through the Master of Public Health programme at the University of Roehampton, London Online, and as a result, was able to assist (by way of support) with the containment of the Ebola virus in Nigeria. “For me, this is a major accomplishment. My learning from the public health programme has helped me to view the subject of health with a broader spectrum, especially as it relates to socio-ecological factors at intrapersonal, interpersonal , institutional and community levels. If an individual does not desire to live a healthy lifestyle, it affects the family unit, the society and the community at large.”
Although the country in many ways still remains vulnerable to future outbreaks of disease, Daniel, amongst others, remains vigilant, employing best practice and innovative thinking to strengthen resistance and protect communities.