Time Magazine has picked the Ebola fighters as their 2014 Person of the Year, and three federal employees were singled out for their outstanding efforts in fighting the epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Thomas Frieden intervened personally when the World Health Organization (WHO) turned away CDC experts who were in the region ready to help. Nancy Sullivan and Gary Nabel, virologists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), have spent more than a decade developing an Ebola vaccine that had just completed phase I clinical trials. Nabel is no longer with NIH, but his and Sullivan’s work at the organization began when very few people had even heard of the disease.
“AFGE is so proud of these federal employees who often times work behind the scenes day in and day out to save lives,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “Their work makes a huge difference not only here in the United States but around the world.”
President Cox said besides health care professionals, other federal employees such as TSA officers also put their lives on the line when they screen and interact with travelers.
NIH has been involved in every aspect of containing the epidemic from deploying to West Africa to caring for Ebola patients including Texas nurse Nina Pham. Tremendous progress has been made here in the United States. A few months ago, there were only three facilities in the country that were capable of treating an Ebola patient. Today, 35 have been designated treatment centers. Previously, only 13 states could test for Ebola as opposed to 36 today.
President Barack Obama recently paid a visit to NIH and pledged full support for the work they do. He said funding for basic research and research for problems as yet unseen is critical and must continue.
“That’s part of how science works—you make investments and you pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake, in part because it turns out that knowledge may turn out useful later and you don’t always know when,” he said. “As you move ahead on all these fronts, I want you to know you have your President’s full support and the administration’s full support.”
Besides NIH and CDC employees, U.S. Navy scientists are also on the front lines fighting Ebola. The Navy has opened two mobile labs in Liberia testing blood samples for any sign of Ebola. Before the labs were up and running, blood samples had to be sent to another lab facility in Monrovia, Liberia, and health workers had to wait two to five days to get results. Now it takes just three to five hours to get a diagnosis.
Ebola has killed more than 6,300 people since the first known case was reported in Guinea in December 2013. More than 17,800 people have been infected.