The NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP) launched a new Ebola and biosafety training program with a Sept. 19-21 awardee meeting and workshop in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. WTP awardees, key stakeholders, and experts shared lessons learned during past outbreaks of infectious disease, such as the H1N1 virus, and how they overcame challenges when responding to emergencies like anthrax attacks.
Participants shared knowledge on emerging infectious diseases, such as the Zika virus, and discussed effective strategies to decrease risk to workers in a variety of occupational settings.
Frontlines of defense for infectious disease
According to keynote speaker Richard Hunt, M.D., training workers to be prepared for predictable and unpredictable outbreaks will build a front line of defense for infectious disease. Hunt is the senior medical advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Emergency Management.
“No matter what surprise we are dealt, those on the front line will have the greatest opportunity to defeat a disease or illness and to prevent its spread,” Hunt said.
The training programs funded by WTP are an important step in strengthening that front line. This event marked the first gathering of eight new awardees in the WTP Ebola Biosafety and Infectious Disease Response Training Program.
“The new awardees have allowed us to pilot Ebola and biosafety training, and this has changed how we think about the training program as a whole,” said WTP Director Joseph "Chip" Hughes in his introduction.
Sharing successful training strategies
Participants shared examples of success with existing training strategies and new ideas in occupational biosafety. Alex Isakov, M.D., lead researcher of the new Emory University WTP on Ebola Biosafety and Infectious Disease Response Training, stressed the importance of proactive, or just-in-time, training for emergency responders.
Arturo Archila, of the Steelworkers Charitable and Education Organization, highlighted the organization’s success in building a bilingual corps of trainers and the largest Spanish language Ebola training workforce in the country.
To be successful, training must consider specific needs and potential barriers for workers in a wide range of occupations (see sidebar). Meeting participants broke into small groups to discuss unique barriers for workers in healthcare and other fields, and addressed issues such as limited time, language, and pre-existing myths or stigmas surrounding specific diseases. Participants gave special attention to several groups of workers who are especially important to consider — first responders, transportation workers, and workers in funeral and mortuary services.
John Lowe, Ph.D., from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, stressed the importance of partnerships to enhance the capacity to deliver infectious disease and biosafety training. He highlighted partnerships with experts in the National Ebola Training and Education Center as a valuable source of training resources for WTP awardees.
(Kenda Freeman is an environmental health research and communications specialist with MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)