Outbreak Responder Stories

Jim Gathany snaps a photo of CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield shaking hands with Felix Tshisekedi, the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

When President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) came to CDC headquarters in late September, Jim Gathany was on the scene in his usual role—“a fly on the wall with a camera.”

But he’s rooting for Tshisekedi and the DRC’s government in their battle against an Ebola outbreak that’s killed more than 2,000 people in a country Gathany considers home. Gathany, CDC’s official photographer, was born in what’s now the DRC and didn’t live in United States until he was six.

Steer program training

In the fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dana Schneider can rely on some familiar skills.

There’s her knowledge of French, which she studied since 7th grade. There’s her familiarity with Africa rooted in her stint as a Peace Corps volunteer. And there’s her experience with the last major Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which took her back to Guinea, the same country where she’d been with the Peace Corps.

Steer program training

Dr. Mary Choi has been the team lead in Goma, CDC’s field headquarters in eastern DRC, and helped develop a mobile app that can help trace contacts of people sick with Ebola by estimating when they might have been infected.

Despite fresh knowledge and advances in vaccination and drugs to treat the disease since the last major outbreak, she says that “There’s no silver bullet.”

Steer program training

The STEER program—Surveillance Training to Enhance Ebola Response and Readiness—provides training for a network of healthcare workers in affected health zones in DRC, where Ebola has killed more than 2,000 people in three eastern provinces.

CDC’s John Saindon returns to Goma after a trip via UN helicopter to Butembo

In fighting an outbreak of Ebola, there are days of slow, steady progress – and then there are days of drama.

Nathan Furukawa, a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, saw both when he was deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo from June through August this year.

CDC’s John Saindon returns to Goma after a trip via UN helicopter to Butembo

Since May of this year Saindon has been based in the city of Goma He is the CDC representative on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). As the team’s deputy leader for medical and public health, he helps decide where USAID resources can be best put to work against the disease.

Shah Roohi, Ebola Responder

People travel more now than they ever have before, from city to city and across international borders. And making sure travelers from and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is battling a year-long outbreak of Ebola virus disease, aren’t bringing that illness with them is what keeps Shahrokh Roohi busy.

Amy Heinzerling Ebola Responder

Like most people asked to deploy, Dr. Barbara Marston’s plate was more than full.  However, Marston has great empathy for those responsible for filling key positions in the current Ebola response—she and her team were responsible for identifying many of the deployers for CDC’s response to Ebola in West Africa.  When she was asked to support the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as CDC’s liaison to World Health Organization’s (WHO) headquarters, she was eager to find a way to say yes.

Amy Heinzerling Ebola Responder

Stopping the spread of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) means keeping a close eye on the borders.

Travelers leaving the country are getting closer scrutiny because of the year-old epidemic. So are people traveling within the country and coming to unaffected cities from areas where the disease has taken hold.

This close watch kept Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer Amy Heinzerling busy during her recent deployment to the DRC’s eastern border city of Goma. She called her deployment “an incredible opportunity,” but also “humbling, as a lot of experiences are in public health.”

Norbert Soke talking into a coffee cup

Here’s something you don’t see every day: A man talking into a coffee pot.

But for CDC epidemiologist Norbert Soke and a team of colleagues in a hotel in Kinshasa, it was a way to break through a technological communication barrier. The pot held not coffee, but a cell phone—and speaking into it created an echo chamber that let the team power through a poor connection with colleagues in Goma.

“That’s the beauty of field work. You need to be creative sometimes,” Soke says.

Dana Haberling standing in a field in Africa

CDC health statistician Dana Haberling finds ways to sort through numbers like these in search of patterns that other public health responders can use to bring the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to an end—a skill she’s honed for more than 13 years.

Haberling is part of CDC’s Global Rapid Response Team, a cadre of volunteer specialists who can be deployed on short notice. When the current outbreak began in August 2018, she was among the first staffers dispatched to the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva.

Amy Schuh, Luke Nyakarahuka, and Jackson Kyondo show the Ugandan Minister of Health the Ebola field laboratory in Bwera, Uganda

Amy Schuh, a laboratory scientist at CDC, is no stranger to being deployed, so when the opportunity arose for her to go to Uganda a second time to support the Ebola outbreak, she jumped at the chance because working in the field is one of her favorite things.

Working closely with staff from the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Amy spent her days working in a makeshift 12’ x 12’ laboratory set up in Bwera Hospital in the Kasese District of Uganda near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.  Every day she drove an hour from her hotel to the lab, where she and Jackson Kyondo, a colleague from UVRI tested samples from patients with suspect cases of Ebola and reported the results to physicians and Ugandan health officials.

Ebola team in Kinshasa, DRC - Fatima Ravat, Mary Claire Worrell, Ben Dahl, Pratima Raghunathan, Amanda MacGurn

Dr. Ben Dahl, Team Lead for Vaccine Preventable Disease Surveillance in the Global Immunization Division, just returned from his third deployment to fight Ebola in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ben served as an advisor to the Minister of Health, helping to guide a data driven response. Ben worked with all areas of response, including surveillance, infection prevention and control, vaccination, border health, health communication, and laboratory testing. In addition to his role as advisor, Ben also served as CDC’s response lead in DRC and worked to address the needs of CDC staff in country. Ben also previously deployed for the DRC Equateur outbreak earlier in 2018 and for the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak.

Vance Brown

Vance Brown. senior technical advisor to Uganda’s Ministry of Health, has supported a wide range of public health initiatives: from disease surveillance, border health, emergency management, and laboratory systems to vaccine deployment, workforce development, health communication, and logistics.