Ebola outbreak forces Mercer to cancel 2015 program in Liberia

An education program in Liberia operated by Mercer University has been canceled for the upcoming year in response to the Ebola outbreak in the West African country, a college spokesman said Tuesday.

Between 15 and 18 university students, along with two faculty members, travel annually to Liberia as part of the college’s mission work teaching students in kindergarten through 12th grade at the Ricks Institute. Mercer has an ongoing relationship with Liberia and also operates an exchange program through the institute. That includes Liberian students traveling to Georgia and taking classes on Mercer’s campuses.

Three Liberian students who are participating in the exchange program arrived around Aug. 20 at Mercer — one at its Macon campus, two at the Atlanta campus — college spokesman Larry Brumley said. They have been screened for the virus and cleared, he said.

Students were questioned about any contact they may have had with anyone infected with the virus and about their own health. Mercer President William Underwood instructed staff in early August to develop procedures for dealing with students arriving from West Africa, Brumley said.

The resulting screenings, devised with input from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are similar to precautions taken by other colleges across the country.

Early last month Emory University and Emory Healthcare issued protocols for staff and students returning from West Africa, instructing them to contact health care staff before returning to work and classes on campus. They were also instructed to monitor their temperature and report any symptoms occurring within 21 days of their return. The state University System sent out the CDC Ebola guidelines to its campus student health centers this summer. Study abroad students visiting Liberia have returned and have not reported any illnesses, said system spokesman John Millsaps.

U.S. universities count 9,728 active students from Nigeria, 204 from Liberia, 169 from Sierra Leone and 95 students from Guinea, according to the federal data, The Associated Press reported. All four nations have been affected by the outbreak.

The Ebola outbreak also led Rick Wilson, the chairman of Mercer’s Christianity department, to curtail his work and return early to Macon last month. Wilson, who was on loan from the university, has served as president of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary since January.

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