Liberian school looks to grow IU partnership

By

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — In seven years — from 2001 to 2008 — only 20 doctors graduated from the University of Liberia's medical school. Then, in the next five years, that number more than quadrupled to 84 doctors.

That change is in part thanks to a collaboration between the school and Indiana University, said Emmet Dennis, president of the University of Liberia. It's a relationship he wants to grow to fight deadly diseases like Ebola that have hit his country.

"I'm here to talk about the present and the future," Dennis said Wednesday during a visit to Bloomington to meet with IU administrators.

Liberia, in West Africa, is a country that as recently as 2008 only had 50 doctors for a country of 4 million, Dennis said. And the current Ebola outbreak has pushed the country's and region's health care into the spotlight.

Since the outbreak began in March, there have been roughly 500 suspected and confirmed Ebola cases in Liberia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of those people have died, and there have been more than 1,700 cases in West Africa. There is no vaccine or cure.

Over the weekend, American doctor and IU alumnus Kent Brantly arrived in Atlanta for treatment after he was infected with Ebola in Liberia.

"Something like Ebola took us by utter surprise. We need all of the help of partners as possible," Dennis told The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/1uqSZ9m ).

Dennis said faculty members at other Big Ten universities already have expressed interest joining the response to the Ebola crisis. He said the virus kills quickly, and Liberia wasn't ready to respond. There wasn't enough protective gear for police and nurses, Dennis said. Plus, he said the literacy rate is low and superstition is high, so it's difficult to educate the public.

But with the help of a U.S. Agency for International Development through a Higher Education for Development grant with IU and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the University of Liberia is taking steps to better educate the country's healthcare workers and build public health and medical infrastructure.

Since the grant funds began in 2011, Dennis said the impact of it and its Center for Excellence in Health and Life Sciences has been tremendous. It's created a revamp of curriculum, funded a medical school faculty and library and more. The funding also brought leaders in fighting infectious disease and promoting public health to the University of Liberia.

"It's allowed us to produce doctors much faster," Dennis said.

Plus, he said the grant created the first public nursing school in the country with training in nursing and midwifery. Before that, he said all the nursing schools were private and cost $15 to $18 per credit hour.

That may not sound like a lot here, but it is in Liberia, Dennis said. "Especially when a credit at University of Liberia is $2.50."

Liberia is recovering from a civil war that ended in 2003. One of the major challenges, Dennis said, is having the experts to know how to use medical technology and educate students.

"The desire from students is there," he said. He said thousands of students want an education, but many don't have the education they need to go to college, and the university doesn't have enough experts to teach or remediate.

"We're not there yet," Dennis said. "We need to increase our expert human capital."

The grant ends in June 2015, and is not renewable, said Kathleen Sobiech, program manager for the IU Office of International Development. She said IU is looking into other funding sources to continue the work being done.

The connection between IU and Liberia is a strong one, said Dennis, who received his master's degree at IU. He said before the current collaboration, one between the universities' law schools began, and many historical Liberian documents are preserved at IU.

"Indiana University represents to me what I call a model of collaboration between an African nation and its flagship university and an American university," Dennis said.

___

Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

©2014 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.