Associated with Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Global Health as an adjunct assistant professor, Richard A. Nisbett — who has worked with both the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control — presented “The View from the Ebola Frontline in Liberia” as a part of the 2015 International Studies Colloquium: Ebola Lessons Learned on Tuesday, September 29. The International Studies Colloquium is a free and public event that takes place in Northrup Hall Room 040 on Tuesdays.

Those who are interested in the budding global health program will find the International Studies Colloquium valuable, Nisbett said.

“The whole purpose of this course is to be plugging into that global awareness,” said professor of modern languages and literature Nanette Le Coat. “[The University] is a paradigm for any other kind of relationship we have with developing countries, and so that’s why [Ebola is the colloquium topic]. Although [Ebola] may seem a morbid topic, it brings to bear all the different kinds of issues that we handle when we’re dealing with our relationship to the natural world.”

The World Health Organization reported that the current outbreak in West Africa is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 — having more cases and deaths than all other outbreaks combined.

“I don’t take this viewpoint,” Nisbett said. “But — there are people who have published this — HIV and Ebola emerged out of a degraded habitat, and now it’s affecting the human population. However, it hasn’t been proven, and I think I’d be more careful than they would about that statement. But there is evidence that some diseases work like this. So [international studies and global health] talk about our relationship with the natural world too, you know? We begin to pose questions such as, ‘Are we cutting down too many forests?’ and ‘Are we putting too many oil plantations everywhere?’ Your perception changes depending on how globally you think.”

However, ideology is simply one aspect of disease, and Nisbett pointed out the fact that the United States has dealt with the same issues that Liberians are dealing with at some point, Le Coat said.

“Liberians are 150 years behind America — that’s all,” Nisbett said. “That’s why it’s important to me to know that technology plays a huge role. Yes, we want a vaccine, yes we want good treatments — but we didn’t have those in 1793, and we stopped dead. Laurie Garrett makes that point in her quote that I used — that there are many things that people can do, but we put money into the exotic and expensive things instead of putting money into social mobilization.  [We are not] engaging communities who have a vested interest in stopping something. It’s their lives — they’re on the lines and so are the lives of their loved ones. As a result, there are just so many messages that can come out of this [Ebola] epidemic.”

Despite the global devastation caused by the Ebola outbreak, both Le Coat and Nisbett find hope in the epidemic.  

“I see the whole thing as hopeful,” Nisbett said.  “I think it’s going to change West Africa. Totally. It has to. So much of what happened in a country that doesn’t have good examples of role models because the best of theirs have left and there’s not infrastructure there for anything else. This international collaboration set standards and models and goals. I’ve got friends saying: ‘I’ve decided that I want to get a masters in medical informatics.” And I think that’s really cool.’

International Studies, with many facets such as global health, is described as a complex, new field, and the purpose of the International Studies Colloquium; a series of talks presented by field experts, is to allow students, and anyone on campus who is interested in global studies to get their feet wet.

“[I encourage students to] get exposure to global awareness and what’s going on,” Nisbett said. “It’s really difficult. Most of us, now in our education, are using this buzzword of recruiting global citizens. Well to me, if you’re doing that, then anything that you talk about of global relevance is helping people to be informed citizens and getting out of their small world. The point is, to me, you don’t have to be interested in infectious diseases or something but in looking at all the connections and asking: ‘What is it and what does it mean?’”