Local group has ties to Ebola outbreak

Posted Monday, August 4, 2014 --- 9:33 p.m.

Fears over the deadly Ebola virus are growing, and those fears hit home for a group of UW-Madison students.

The, called Project 1808, travels twice a year to the West African country of Sierra Leone. PhD candidate Linda Vakunta has been attending these trips for the last few years, and considers Sierra Leone to be a second home to her.

In June, Vakunta and others spent three weeks in the country educating kids about Ebola, and other health issues. At the time, the Ebola outbreak had hit neighboring countries, but hadn't broke out in Sierra Leone yet.

During the trip, Vakunta met with World Health Organization leaders to discuss the virus. At the time, she said leaders were optimistic that an outbreak wouldn't happen in Sierra Leone.

"To be honest, I'm very surprised about what's going on there now because at the time they were very confident they had prevented the virus from entering Sierra Leone.. and they said at this point if it came into Sierra Leone, they had had time to prepare for it," she said.

Since then, more than 600 people have contracted the virus in Sierra Leone. Vakunta worries the end may not be in sight soon.

"I really worry about the eradication of this virus when experts from countries that are supposed to be well equipped to handle these issues, are afraid to go in... and with very valid reason," she said.

Vakunta hopes more resources and education in Sierra Leone will come out of this tragic outbreak.

"The long term solution is to train the young people to handle situations like this in the future. If we don't do that, it will continue to be a burden on Sierra Leone, on West Africa, on Africa and on the rest of the world," she said.

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