Outbreak Responder Stories

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.”

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.