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Ebola impacts students abroad

STORY BY EMILY SADECKI 

With the recent developments of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in Western Africa, Drake International is continuing to vigorously assess health and safety risk factors for study abroad students.

They aim to empower and inform students before they embark on their international studies.

According to Christa Olson, Vice Provost President for International Programs, no students from Drake are currently in the affected areas.

The Drake International Office utilizes a thorough risk assessment process when navigating student travel both in partner programs and Drake sponsored travel experiences.

Jen Hogan, associate director of Education Abroad explained the relationships with affiliated programs.

“Our affiliated providers keep us very up-to-date in terms of what is going on, especially in areas where there are particular health concerns,” Hogan said.

One of these organizations is SIT (School for International Training) Study Abroad, which even though EVD has not been reported where SIT operates, has put additional training and procedures in place for the safety and health of students.

This includes EVD briefings upon arrival, additional information given to homestay families and the discontinuation of independent study projects in a healthcare setting in West Africa.

“Much like other world events, we keep our finger on the pulse and manage as we go,” Hogan said.

Annique Kiel, assistant of director of Drake Administered Programs Abroad, is dedicated to ensuring that students feel safe and is proud of the processes that Drake has established to mitigate risks.

Before a program is offered for students to register, it undergoes a rigorous risk-assessment process. This includes looking at the itinerary, lodging and transportation, as well as safety and security ratings for the country.

For January Term programs there is a preliminary risk assessment process in the spring before they are announced at the J-Term fair.

Further assessment is done in October to make sure that no new concerns have arisen before given final approval.

There is currently a J-Term scheduled to go to Ghana, which will undergo this evaluation with the rest of the courses to determine if travel is still safe for students.

Currently, Ghana is not under travel advisory by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) for the EVD outbreak. The CDC advises avoiding nonessential travel to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, while using enhanced precautions in traveling to Nigeria.

Students and faculty are also equipped with the resources they need to deal with situations as they may come up while on site.

Kiel stresses that it is important to have a discussion about global issues when they arise rather than simply closing off travel to entire regions, in this case Africa.

“In order to truly be a responsible global citizen, you have to be connected to what is happening,” Kiel said.

Meghan Harris, professor at Drake University, teaches epidemiology, the study of how disease spreads. She recommends consulting the CDC yellow pages before traveling out of the country for any amount of time.

Often, recommended vaccines are not available at a doctor’s office, individuals may need to go to the nearest health department.

“I always recommend if you are going to a country for more than two weeks that has a significant disease risk, go to your doctor,” Harris said.

She suggested having a conversation about the risks associated with the particular region, antiparasitics, antibiotics and tactics to decipher the cause of symptoms.

Drake International Office also advises students to have conversations with their health care providers and reference the websites of organizations such as the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO).

By giving students the resources they need both prior to travel and on-site, the Drake International Office hopes to set the foundation for a rewarding, engaging and healthy experience abroad.

“We have to be aware and help everyone be prepared, but it also presents a huge opportunity for education,” Kiel said. “If the world becomes too scary, then the idea of knowledge gained through diverse interactions and intercultural interactions goes away.”

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