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Spotlight on Walden // Aug 17, 2015

Fighting Ebola on the Front Lines

PhD in Public Health student Avi Stein learned of the Ebola outbreak in Africa last year, he felt compelled to help and volunteered to deploy to Sierra Leone in West Africa. As a lieutenant commander for the U.S. Public Health Service assigned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, he was among the first wave of emergency responders to head into the field.

Twice deployed to Sierra Leone—from August to October 2014, at the start of the epidemic, and again in December until February 2015—Stein worked as the national data manager of the CDC’s epidemiology team. He also served as the first safety officer to keep all CDC responders safe once they were on the ground.

“When I arrived, I helped roll out a system to track Ebola cases,” he says. “The system was not intended for a nationwide outbreak, because, historically, outbreaks only affect small villages.” Stein set up data centers around the country to begin gathering data from colleagues across the country and also served as the point person for the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

“The experience really opened my eyes as a public health professional working in a developing nation for the first time,” says Stein. “This is a global epidemic and something the entire world is watching. We traveled from the capital city, Freetown, to more rural areas of Sierra Leone. We saw enormous human suffering in those small villages. Some residents did not believe what we told them about Ebola.”

Stein has always had a passion for helping others, including serving the public as a first responder. He became an emergency medical technician (EMT) while pursuing his undergraduate degree and later became a paramedic and a volunteer firefighter. “I loved working in the field,” he says. “But I knew I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life.” While completing his master’s in public health (MPH), he became interested in the field of epidemiology. Inspired by his wife, who had earned her MS in Education (MSEd) at Walden, Stein enrolled in Walden’s PhD in Public Health program with a specialization in Epidemiology. “When I volunteered for the Sierra Leone mission, my Walden degree was a key aspect in being selected,” he says.

A dedicated husband and father of two, Stein cites his family as his greatest inspiration and biggest supporters. And although his work does require significant personal sacrifice due to his frequent travel, they couldn’t be more proud of him. As his 7-year-old daughter likes to tell people, “My daddy is helping fight Ebola.”

The CDC has made great strides since the beginning of the outbreak. But there is still work to be done in Sierra Leone,” says Stein. “Even though Ebola is not at the forefront of the news cycle anymore, we are still fighting the disease. Ebola changed that perspective of how we protect Americans—we protect Americans by protecting the health of the world.”