FIU disease expert tapped for Ebola mission in Africa


A Florida International University medical professor who grew up in Miami is being sent to help fight the Ebola outbreak in Africa by gathering data and possibly treating patients.

Dr. Aileen María Marty
Dr. Aileen María Marty

Dr. Aileen María Marty, a professor of infectious diseases at the Florida International University College of Medicine, has been directed by the World Health Organization to prepare for a likely mission to help contain the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Marty — one of the world’s leading experts on emerging infections and a specialist on managing chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents — was getting ready Sunday at her Miami Beach home in anticipation of her possible trip to Sierra Leone.

“I’ve been tapped,” Marty said Sunday. “They said fill out all these forms, get your pre-deployment physical, which I’m getting Tuesday morning.”

Marty, who arrived from Cuba in 1961 with her parents when she was 4, will join a team of experts from around the world that will soon be deployed by WHO to ramp up the international response in fighting an outbreak that has killed more than 700 people and infected more than 1,000 others.

“It should be stressed how delicate the situation is,” Marty said. “There are a lot of people dying. It’s incredibly sad and we need to contain this thing.”

Echoing the other experts, Marty said the outbreak can be contained.

“It is possible.” she said.

WHO chief Margaret Chan said at a meeting with West African presidents Friday that the outbreak, while seemingly out of control, could be stopped.

“This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” she said at the summit gathering, but added: “This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.”

At the same time, WHO announced a $100 million program to deploy more medical specialists to the outbreak region to get a handle on the crisis.

This is where Marty’s expertise comes in.

“When [WHO] sent me my letter they said, ‘We’d like you to function as a clinician and for data analysis,’ ” Marty said.

That means Marty will treat patients, if needed, but also help gather data on the outbreak to help the World Health Organization better understand it.

“I can certainly help with individual patients, if need be, and I’m more than happy to,” she said.

But one of Marty’s goals, she said, is to create a data analysis team to figure out efficient ways to contain the disease.

Chan, the WHO leader, said last week that accurate and detailed mapping of the outbreak was an urgent necessity, as well as more and better equipment to prevent infection of medical personnel.

Marty acknowledged feeling “concerned” about the mission, but she said she is looking forward to help contain the outbreak.

She is confident that the equipment issued will keep her safe from infection.

“I’m very familiar with biosafety,” she said, noting that she has worn protective suits and has trained in different biosafety levels.

Given her background, Marty is no stranger to Ebola and other infections.

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Marty served as one of the experts advising authorities after several people received letters containing anthrax spores. Five people were killed and more than a dozen others were infected.

While growing up in Miami, Marty graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, then attended University of Miami where she studied marine biology followed by medicine.

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