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University Holds Interdisciplinary Symposium on Ebola Crisis

SEPTEMBER 24, 2014 – GEORGETOWN HELD AN INTERDISCIPLINARYsymposium on the rapidly growing Ebola epidemic in West Africa  yesterday, demonstrating yet again its ability to address multiple dimensions of the crisis, including medical, legal, ethical, political and security issues.

The symposium included remarks via Skype from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, which is being ravaged by the Ebola virus.  

“Georgetown has the privilege to convene public leaders, great thinkers and seasoned practitioners to explore and examine critical global health issues that lie at the intersection of medical science and global policy,” said Monahan, an advisor to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia on global health and senior fellow at the university’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “The Ebola epidemic is more than a deadly virus, and combating it will require understanding the social, economic and security dimensions of this crisis.”

The School of Foreign Service (SFS) and Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) partnered with the Law Center, the McCourt School, Georgetown College’s biology department, the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research and the Office of the President to create yesterday’s symposium.


John Monahan, sitting behind a table, speaks as Susan Kim listens.John Monahan, an advisor to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia on global health and senior fellow at the university’s McCourt School of Public Policy, talks as fellow panelist Susan Kim, deputy director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown, listens.

Johnson Sirleaf urged students to think academically when asked what the Georgetown community can do to help end the crisis.

“This would be a good case study,” she said. “See where we are today, look at the measures we are taking, study, conduct data analysis and two years from now present a paper and tell us, were the projections correct?”

SFS Interim Dean James Reardon-Anderson emphasized the importance of such symposiums as an opportunity to look at the state of international affairs.

“The conduct and study of international affairs is changing,” he said, “from a preoccupation with states, nations and the relations among people and institutions, to a greater appreciation for the challenges posed by the forces of nature to all of humankind.” 

“This change can be seen in the mounting shortages of water, food and other natural resources, in climate change, and now tragically in the threat of infectious disease," he added.


James Habyarimana speaks as Sharon Abramowitz sits to his left.James Habyarimana, associate professor of public policy at Georgetown, speaks at the symposium. To his left is panelist Sharon Abramowitz, assistant professor of anthropology and African studies at the University of Florida.

Dr. Dan Lucey, adjunct professor of microbiology at GUMC, and Emily Mendenhall, an SFS assistant professor, served as symposium co-chairs.

The professors recruited faculty members from Georgetown and other universities to talk about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and its implications on a global scale.

Also featured at the symposium were Dr. Luciana Borio, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s acting deputy chief Scientist and Dr. Elizabeth  Cameron, White House National Security Staff.  


“We have the brains, we have the knowledge, we have the people and we have the financial resources to stop these kinds of disasters in the future, and if we make the right decisions in the coming months we can stop this epidemic,” said Steve Radelet, director SFS’ Global Human Development Program at the event. “The question is – will we make the decisions and take the actions necessary to do so?”

Lucey, an infectious disease and public health physician, has traveled overseas since 2003 to work with colleagues and patients during and/or after outbreaks such as SARS in China and the bird flu in Indonesia and Egypt, MERS in Qatar and Jordan.

He now works with patients and doctors on the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The physician noted that yesterday was one of several Georgetown symposia this year on international infectious disease outbreaks.

“[This] highlights the synergy of strengths that such cross-campus Georgetown events bring together to inform both students and policymakers," explained Lucey, who has played an integral role in each of the four symposiums. 


A media teleconference in late August, for example, featured Georgetown experts on a wide variety of issues related to the Ebola virus, including Lucey, Larry Gostin, faculty director of Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law on legal implications, and GUMC’s Dr. Kevin Donovan on ethics and Dr. Jesse Goodman on regulation of new treatments.

In early September, the Law Center and the O'Neill Institute hosted a panel moderated by Monahan to examine the Ebola crisis with panelists Lucey, Gostin and Donovan, as well as outside experts from the Centers for Disease Control and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

CSPAN covered the panel, which addressed the epidemiology of the outbreaks, legal and ethical issues relating to quarantine and new therapies and the emerging security and political issues of the crisis.