Monash scientists donate $250,000 worth of teaching equipment to Ebola ravaged Liberian medical school

SOBS Liberia

SOBS Liberia

Since late 2013 when the Ebola crisis began in West Africa there has been more than 11,000 deaths. Liberia suffered the worst, with more than 4,800 deaths. While the disease is virtually eradicated in the country, there are long term consequences. People not only died from the virus, they died of other illnesses because there were simply no doctors or healthcare workers to help them. A Monash University professor is trying to help rebuild the medical community within this ravaged country.

In May this year, Professor, Paul McMenamin, Director of the Centre of Human Anatomy Education, was in Denver for a conference where he heard Dr Ian Crozier, a US doctor who had contracted Ebola and survived, talk of his experiences in West Africa during the pandemic.

“He received a standing ovation, which is very rare at a medical conference and I sat there thinking, how can I help?” Professor McMenamin said.

Just hours later whilst at the Denver airport he received an email from a colleague at Harvard University, asking whether he could help teach medical students in Liberia, where doctors were needed more than ever and teaching conditions were dire.

“It was an uncanny coincidence and I immediately agreed,” he said.

Professor McMenamin would bring a unique teaching tool to Liberia. Earlier this year McMenamin and his team licensed a series of over fifty 3D prints to the German anatomical model makers, Erler-Zimmer. The '3D Printed Anatomy Series', is the first commercially available resource of its kind. The 3D prints contain no human tissue, thus avoiding any sensitive issues regarding ethics or safety, yet it provides all the major parts of the body required to teach anatomy of the limbs, chest, abdomen, head and neck.

When Professor McMenamin returned to the lab in Melbourne he set aside three months for a full human body to be made for the medical students at the AM Dagliotti Medical School in Monrovia, the only medical school in Liberia. The school admits up to 60 students a year, but this year is carrying an extra dozen or so because the school was closed during the Ebola crisis in 2014. According to Professor McMenamin there is virtually no teaching staff and no one to teach anatomy. Many staff fled during the civil wars in the 80s and late 90s or during the Ebola epidemic.

The Harvard colleague that reached out to Professor McMenamin is part of the Academic Consortium for Combating Ebola in Liberia (ACCEL). Funded by the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. It comprises doctors from the University of Massachusetts, The Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School who visit the medical school for a few weeks a year to teach the students.

According to Professor McMenamin the Medical School is in a poor state with no flushing toilets, frequent power failures, little or no air conditioning, one data projector for the entire school and, while ACCEL has provided some books, histology slides and microscopes there is no one to teach them for much of the time except for overseas volunteers.

Professor McMenamin flew to Monrovia on 11 September with around 60 kilograms of exact replicas of the human anatomy made by Monash University’s 3D printing facility as well as 12 poster sized digital scans of histology slides. The commercial worth of these teaching materials was in excess of $250,000.

To Professor McMenamin, it is not possible to train medical doctors without educating them about anatomy of the human body. In countries like Liberia – apart from the very serious issue of not being able to use cadavers because of the risk of Ebola – having an understanding of how the heart looks, where the liver sits and what bones are where is crucial to doctors who don’t have access to modern medical imaging tools such as MRIs or CT scan. Even X-rays are difficult due to a lack of resources

The visit to the AM Dagliotti Medical School is the first of many for Professor McMenamin who has been, he says, altered by the experience of teaching there.

“I saw the sort of poverty that you can’t even imagine, and yet I also saw students so willing to learn, and volunteers so willing to help, that it made me ask what can I do?”

Apart from teaching there on an annual basis, Professor McMenamin hopes to create a formal teaching relationship between the Monash Medical School and the school in Monrovia, with a two way internship between the two countries.