DHHS official urges coordinated response to Ebola in campus discussion

Ambassador James Kolker, assistant secretary for global affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke in the Marvin Center Monday. Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer
James Kolker, assistant secretary for global affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke in the Marvin Center on Monday about his agency’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer
This post was written by Hatchet reporter Henry Klapper.

A top federal department of health official visited campus looking to disprove the myths about Ebola and argue the best ways to handle the outbreak in a discussion with students Monday.

Jimmy Kolker, assistant secretary for global affairs in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke to GW’s chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society about his agency’s response to the outbreak.

He said news coverage has spread inaccurate and misleading information about the chances of catching the disease, which are slim.

“You have a greater chance of your dying by a piano falling on your head than from Ebola,” Kolker said, adding that conditions like obesity and heart disease “are the real killers.”

Claire Standley, a senior research scientist at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, hosted the event in the Marvin Center.

Here are some key takeaways from his speech:

1. “The need for coordination”

To end the Ebola outbreak, Kolker said countries in West Africa need to collaborate, even if it is a challenge.

“Everyone recognizes the need for coordination, but no one likes to be coordinated,” Kolker said.

He said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security screens about 150 travelers from West Africa each day as they come into the country.

White House meetings about the outbreak have brought together representatives from more than two dozen government agencies.

“The State Department and the Department of Defense have been involved with the response making this a security, health and foreign policy issue,” Kolker said.

2. Boots on the ground

Kolker said the United Kingdom has staffed an army hospital in West Africa to take care of doctors who could have been exposed to the disease.

“Field and and Navy ship hospitals are effective – but only to a certain point,” Kolker said.

He said the U.S. has had the most “sustained” response to Ebola in West Africa, sending aid workers to care for the sick.

3. A state of denial

Kolker said “thousands of lives could have been saved” if a coordinated response had happened sooner. But many of the affected countries were “in denial” about the danger of the disease, he said.

Kolker said the lack of an effective response stemmed from government quarrels that made it difficult to coordinate quickly.

More than 4,900 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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