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Fighting Ebola: Passion for her country and love for public health helps IU alum conquer fears

Tiawanlyn Gongloe, a graduate of Indiana University and its School of Public Health-Bloomington, lives in Monrovia, Liberia, where she works for the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare as a member of the National Task Force, which was created to eliminate the Ebola virus from the country. Overwhelmed by the work involved in fighting the outbreak, which has led to more than 200 deaths in her country, she found time to answer some questions about her life in the midst of such tragedy and her experiences in Bloomington.

Tiawanlyn Gongloe at her graduation ceremony in May

Tiawanlyn Gongloe at her graduation ceremony in May

Born in Grand Bassa, Liberia, in West Africa at the beginning of a civil war that lasted “for 14 years of my life,” she fled to the United States with her family in 2002, when she was only 12 years old. She grew up in Bloomington, Ind., and received multiple degrees from Indiana University’s School of Public Health-Bloomington: a bachelor’s degree in community health and a Master of Public Health and Master of Science in School and College Health Education.

I asked her if she is afraid for her own health and safety. The short answer is “Yes, but … ”

“Every day that I wake up and go to work, knowing that I will be in the field and I may encounter people who may be suspected cases of the virus, I have a moment of fear,” she wrote. ” However, my passion for my country and my love for public health has helped me to conquer this fear.

“I get afraid when I hear the death news of other health workers due to the virus or the injury of health workers by the hands of community members. I believe that in these times, you have to take it as a job and be as committed to seeing an end result in order to keep going.”

Read about an IU-Liberia health collaboration

Health & Vitality: What is your current job and what do you do? How long have you done this?

Tiawanlyn Gongloe: I work with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare as a member of the National Task Force that was created to eliminate the Ebola virus disease from Liberia. The National Task Force (NTF) is made up of four working committees, of which I work with two based on the task at hand. I moved to Monrovia early July and started working with the NTF on July 9. This is a temporary job for the period of the outbreak. As a member of the NTF, I work with the Social Mobilization committee where we provide education and awareness on the deadly Ebola virus disease in communities and also work with team members to produce audio messages to the public. Also, we do some education for public entities and community organizations.

My work with the Contact Tracing Committee is much more hectic and this is done on a daily basis (CNN’s Dr. Gupta discusses contact tracing). The Contact Tracing Committee is responsible for following up with family members and others who had direct contact with a suspected or confirmed Ebola case. This is the committee that conducts the follow-up with each contact for a period of 21 days while the government provides food for them since they have to stay home for the follow-up period. The contact tracing team has contact tracers, who report to their supervisors and the supervisors report to the field monitor on a daily basis.

Health & Vitality: What’s a typical day like?

Tiawanlyn Gongloe: I serve as a field monitor so my typical day is spent leaving the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare by 9 a.m. and driving to seven locations around Monrovia to collect reports on contacts that are being followed up. While in the field we sometimes get calls about possible contacts or a recent death suspected to have been caused by the EVD and we have to go in and talk to the family and get as much information on all those who came in contact with the case. After visiting all of our sites, we return to the ministry by 5-6 p.m. for an update meeting so that the information that was collected would be added into the database. Due to the lack of access to Internet across the country, all of the data are collected through paper-based forms.

Health & Vitality: Can you help put what you’re dealing with into perspective for people like myself, who just follow it from afar through newscasts? Is this the kind of work you thought you would be doing when you were a student here?

Tiawanlyn Gongloe: I am overwhelmed because we are in the middle of a serious outbreak and our Government is strained because it has not dealt with such a disaster before. Because our financial and human resources are limited, it is hectic for those of us who have some skills and are willing to work. Also, the government and health care workers such as myself who go to meet with families and community members, find it difficult because of the resistance and denial of many of our people. Some communities, especially very traditional or religious communities, have threatened health workers who have tried to provide education and awareness in their communities. I have learned to be tactful in how I approach family members and communities.

This situation is not only giving me public health experience but it’s providing an opportunity for me to also demonstrate some of the public health principles, such as cultural competency. Although I am a Liberian, I have lived outside of Liberia for most of my life so many community members and families see me as a foreigner and sometimes this is used to my advantage since some people have lost trust in the Liberian Government. However, in many cases, it threatens people; therefore, I have to be observant of the communities that I’m going into and do my best to blend in. I have been successful on many occasions but there are times when I have to realize that it is beyond my control. Although, I did not imagine working in the middle of an outbreak such as the Ebola virus disease, I am really proud of how fast I was able to get involved and how much knowledge I have as a recent graduate.

Health & Vitality: How do you deal with the stress?

Tiawanlyn Gongloe: I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my fears or stress because if I do, I will become afraid and perhaps quit. When I feel stress and I think I am not ready for this kind of work, I think about my family and friends who are also in Liberia and how if I don’t work to help eliminate this virus, I will feel guilty for not putting my education to positive use. I believe these kinds of experiences are rare for many people in this field and this could be the beginning of great things to come in my career so that keeps me motivated to keep working.

Health & Vitality: Have your experiences with the Ebola outbreak changed your career goals? What’s your dream job?

Tiawanlyn Gongloe: I don’t think my experiences with the fight against the deadly Ebola virus disease have changed my career goals much because I’ve always had big dreams of working in the international sector. If anything, this experience has heightened my desire to pursue my dream of working someday as an international expert to countries with severe public health needs. Now I can assist in the fight against any infectious disease because I am aware of the steps to plan and take actions.

Health & Vitality: Why did you choose to study at IU?

Tiawanlyn Gongloe: I chose to study at IU for many reasons but one being the fact that I wanted to study at a university where I would have the opportunity to interact with colleagues and professors who have vast experience in their field and who were willing to work with me to build my career. My experience with the School of Public Health was a great one because I had professors who were so interested in learning more about me and understanding my goals and supporting me in achieving them. Although my background was a bit different from many of the other students, I never felt alone because of the support that I received. I was able to tailor a lot of my class assignments and writings to fit my professional goals and that helped me to get to where I am today.

Health & Vitality: Any advice for people considering public health as an academic degree or career?

Tiawanlyn Gongloe: Anyone considering public health needs to be truly passionate about this field because the work that you will do outside the classroom will not be static; therefore, you have to learn to fit into various environment and be ready for changes. You will have to learn to accept situations as they come because you might find yourself in a situation where there will be financial constraints but the need for public health is great so you will have to be creative in addressing those needs with what you have available.

Run for your life! But first …

Buried at the very bottom of this interesting Reuters article about how light jogging can reduce the risk of dying from heart disease was what I consider really good advice from a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington.

Andrea Chomistek

Andrea Chomistek

From the Reuters article:

“As far as recommending that people go for short jogs everyday, I do think this is something we could recommend, although with a couple caveats,” said Andrea Chomistek, an epidemiology and biostats assistant professor in the School of Public Health (who was not involved with the study).

“For individuals who are currently inactive, they should probably start with walking and ease into running,” she told Reuters Health in an email. “For inactive individuals who are older or have medical issues, they may want to check in with their physician before starting a running program, although walking is just fine.”

Finding a running buddy can be good motivation, Chomistek said.

“If you know that someone is counting on you to show up, you’ll be more likely to go,” she said. “And longer runs are definitely more fun if you have company.”

The study, which tracked more than 55,000 adults for 15 years, found that compared to non-runners, people who ran even a little were “30 percent less likely to die during the study period and 45 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.”

Who wouldn’t want these benefits? But you don’t want to start out on the wrong foot, so to speak, with injuries or excessive aches because you did not ease into a running routine. The research was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Gaming and kids: Fun and games and learning?

The Indianapolis Star ran an interesting article about video games recently. As a parent of kids who enjoy video games, I found some of the insights about the potential for “playful learning” reassuring. But as school approaches, I’m reminded of how video games can interfere with academic performance, including homework and wakefulness at school.

Minecraft creation, example of gaming

A Minecraft creation

Sean Duncan, an assistant professor and collaborator in the IU School of Education’s Center for Research on Learning and Technology, had some interesting things to say about “playful learning,” which can come from the myriad of decisions kids make during the gaming. I’ve noticed that the gaming also requires conflict resolution skills as players work out conflicts caused when someone intentionally blows up their structures or hurts them virtually.

“These open-world environments allow the learner to choose what they want to do,” Duncan told the Indianapolis Star. “These are things that we don’t do at all in schools. We very rarely allow a learner to say, ‘OK, you want to go off and do this? You figure out what you need to do and we’ll give you the resources to do it.’

“No, it’s ‘Stay in the chair. Stay still. And we’ll tell you what to learn.’”

My family continues to work on the downside of gaming, such as too much gaming causing kids to lose much-needed sleep. If anyone has any good tips, please email them to me at, and I’ll share them on my blog.

Everyone wants to matter: Insights into school shootings

Bernice Pescosolido, a highly regarded medical sociologist at Indiana University Bloomington, talks in this TEDxBloomington presentation about some surprising discoveries regarding the lives of some teens who committed murder during school rampages.

Far from being loners — at least by choice — they might have wanted to belong too much, but lived in communities that lacked multiple paths (schools, clubs) through which residents could feel like they belonged.

“The boys [according to a National Academy of Sciences report] were boys who had perceptions of themselves as extremely marginal,” Pescosolido said during her presentation. “That’s important. There are two words there that are important: ‘perception’ and ‘marginal.’ Because these weren’t boys who were loners. These were boys who tried over and over and over again to belong — to belong to groups in their high school, to below to groups in college, to belong to their family in a closer way — but they experienced they were constantly rebuffed.”

Read more…

Female condoms?

infographic about condoms

Click on infographic for larger view. Photo by Debby Herbenick


It’s no secret that Debby Herbenick, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, wants people to enjoy sex. She’s written many books about the topic, including “Sex Made Easy: Your Awkward Questions Answered — for Better, Smarter, Amazing Sex.”

A sexual health researcher at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, she’s also a proponent of safe sex. Her work in this area led to her being a winner of the Grand Challenges Explorations, a global health initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With an initial grant of $100,000 for her research project, “Development and Testing of the Female Pleasure Condom,” she and her collaborator, if successful, will be in the running for a follow-up grant of up to $1 million.

Herbenick told Fast Company:

“Female condoms, generally speaking, are still in early stages of innovation. There’s a lot of room for people to be creative and to work on designs, methods of insertion, and sensations. . … The condom has textural ‘cues’ at the front end, making application easier in the dark.”

Read more…

Sexual health, HIV on a global scale: 5 questions with Brian Dodge and Jessamyn Bowling

Faculty and students with the Center for Sexual Health and Promotion in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington are involved with a wide range of community-based sexual health research and practice activities in domestic and international settings.

Brian Dodge in India

Brian Dodge in India

In Puerto Rico, for example, the center maintains an active academic and research partnership with colleagues at the Latin American Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the University of Puerto Rico Health Sciences Center in San Juan. The research team has also worked on projects in other areas of Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia.

Recently the School of Public Health announced The U.S.-India Partnership for Sexual Health Promotion, a new initiative that involves formalizing public health collaborations between the school and The Humsafar Trust, India’s oldest and largest health service organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations. Brian Dodge, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and an associate professor in the school’s Department of Applied Health Science, and Jessamyn Bowling, a project coordinator at the center and a doctoral student, take five questions about the new initiative and their work in general.

Health & Vitality: What is the project in India and what led to it?

Dodge and Bowling: In India, a country of 1.24 billion people, of whom nearly 2.5 million are currently living with HIV, there is an urgent need for public health interventions that are evidence-based, culturally congruent and high-impact in terms of their ability to promote sexual health. The members of the U.S.-India Partnership for Sexual Health Promotion will collaborate with academic and community-based experts on both continents in order to identify sexual health priorities, explore innovative research and intervention opportunities, and use the principles of community-based participatory public health research for the benefit of all members of the partnership. Read more…

Add me to the list of Parker Mantell fans

Parker Mantell’s list of fans includes his fellow Indiana University Bloomington graduates who gave him a standing ovation after his impressive commencement speech earlier this month. Ignore the doubters, he told them, after challenging them to “Imagine what you are depriving our world of, if you never dare to achieve your purpose.”

Mantell referred to such giants as Einstein, Beethoven, Ray Charles and FDR, who created remarkable legacies despite obvious hurdles. And he offered himself as an example. Stuttering during the first two sentences of his brief address, he went on to discuss internships and volunteer work that involves thousands of telephone conversations on behalf of some of the most powerful men in politics.

“Far too often society has instilled and reinforced the idea that those of us with disabilities are to remain disabled and perhaps even incapable,” said Mantell, who interned in the Washington, D.C., offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Sen. Marco Rubio and in the office of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The political science grad also interned for “Fox News Sunday” and the House Committee on Homeland Security. “If one is bound to a wheelchair or suffers from ADHD or repeats the first syllable of a word as I sometimes do, we have been tacitly yet resoundingly told to doubt both ourselves and our abilities. Doubt, as has been observed, kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

Read more…

Dancers with Parkinson’s disease

Video by IU Communications multimedia intern Lena Morris.

Hoosier Georgia Shaich says fellow dancers in the Dance for PD class in Bloomington, Ind. are both different and alike.

“We really enjoy music and dance,” she told multimedia intern Lena Morris. “It’s fun and it’s a relief from the regimen that you have when you have Parkinson’s.”

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder involving the nervous system. It develops gradually and affects facial expressions and movement, often causing a noticeable tremor, but stiffness also is common. There is no cure.

Roberta Wong, who brought the Dance for PD program to Bloomington, teaches ballet, modern dance and Dance for Parkinson’s in the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance at Indiana University Bloomington. Dance for PD provides more information, including a “Find a class” link.  In Indiana, classes also are available in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Merrillville.

What happens in Greenland won’t stay in Greenland

Coastal town in Greenland

Coastal town in Greenland

Climate change is in the spotlight this week because of the release of the third National Climate Assessment, which discusses observable and troublesome changes in the U.S, and a new study from Harvard that predicts that many food crops around the world will lose nutritional value as carbon dioxide levels continue to rise.

My colleague Steve Hinnefeld blogged about the key involvement of two Indiana University professors in the national assessment and their insights about climate change in the Midwest. Last week I helped IU anthropologist Virginia Vitzthum raise the issue by announcing her National Science Foundation-funded research project to study the biological, cultural and environmental challenges facing an Arctic community. Vitzthum said in a news release that like many coastal and modernizing communities worldwide, northern Greenlanders are confronted by a changing climate, demographic shifts and global economic forces that threaten their very existence.

“Cultural reproduction of communities and biological reproduction of individuals are necessarily linked, but rarely is this intimate connection so clearly revealed as when facing unprecedented challenges to indigenous lifeways,” said Vitzthum, senior scientist at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.

“Ice is literally melting beneath their feet. There are more accidents, and the shifts in hunting and fishing seasons make it more difficult to earn a living. There’s a changing sense of connection to the land; it’s critical to learn what’s happening there and how it affects residents and the survival of their community.”

Greenland, while roughly a quarter of the size of the United States’ contiguous states, has seen its population shrink below 60,000.

What she and her team (researchers from The Kinsey Institute, University of Montana and the University of Greenland) learn in Greenland could benefit the health of men and women in the U.S.

Read more…

288,876 — That’s a lot of broken bones

kid jumping on a trampolineFrom my colleagues who write about the IU School of Medicine:

Trampoline accidents sent an estimated 288,876 people, most of them children, to hospital emergency departments with broken bones from 2002 to 2011, at a cost of more than $400 million, according to an analysis by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Including all injuries, not just fractures, hospital emergency rooms received more than 1 million visits from people injured in trampoline accidents during those 10 years, boosting the emergency room bills to just over $1 billion, according to the study.

Read the full news release

I have two teenage sons, one of whom chose to ride his bike with friends over icy roads last winter, so I totally believe what lead author Randall T. Loder, M.D., said in the news release. Loder is chair of the IU School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and a surgeon at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

“They’re probably jumping higher, with more force. And believe me, teenagers are risk takers,” Loder said. “Younger kids may not understand potential outcomes of their actions, but they’re not so much risk takers. Teenagers, they’ll just push the limit.”

The Huffington Post wrote about the study. This Indianapolis Star article discusses support for and opposition to banning trampolines.