CGU Professor William Crano Combats Ebola Through Education

As part of the effort to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa, one of Claremont’s own is turning to the project that underlies our institutions: education.

Over the past 12 years, Claremont Graduate University psychology professor William Crano has been working with a volunteer-driven nonprofit health information organization called WiRED International. The organization was started by current executive director Dr. Gary Selnow, one of Crano’s former students, while Selnow was on a Fulbright fellowship. WiRED facilitates digital learning programs, or modules, with portable media that allow anyone to access relevant health information. 

These modules, according to a WiRED release on Ebola shared with TSL by Crano, are interactive learning tools that use simple, straightforward language and infographics to teach the cause, prevention and treatment of an illness such as Ebola. Crano said that WiRED will release a new Ebola module geared toward school children by the end of this week and another one for health care workers about a week afterward. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ebola virus disease first appeared in 1976 in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The outbreak in West Africa that began in March has led to a reported 4,877 deaths, according to a situation report released by the WHO on Wednesday. 

The countries most severely affected by Ebola—Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia—lack the human and infrastructural resources that could educate the public and help prevent the spread of deadly diseases. 

“People in the affected areas need more information, presented in an easily understandable form, to stop the spread of the disease,” Selnow wrote in the WiRED release. 

According to the WHO’s situation report, Ebola cases in the United States are all contained and monitored, but Crano pointed out that in some countries, particularly in West Africa, the infrastructure makes it very difficult to prevent the spread.   

“The world that’s out there really needs help too, and that’s really what we’re focusing on,” Crano said.  

Modules are developed, peer-reviewed and evaluated by an array of medical experts and technicians. Once complete, the modules are available free of charge on WiRED’s website.

Crano said that part of evaluating a module consists of executing experimental tests by randomly assigning a group of individuals to either a module or control condition and then reconvening with those individuals about a week or two later to test whether they have retained the information. 

Modules have a self-test element that keeps participants aware of how they score on a certain topic, such as Ebola. Crano added that modules are translated into communities’ respective languages.

Dr. Suellen Crano, Crano’s wife and a member of WiRED’s governing board, offered an example of the organization’s impact on individual lives. 

“One of the first places that we got into was in Kenya,” she said. “Some of the kids from the early days who didn’t know what a computer was or even spoke English are now studying IT [Information Technology] and medicine based on their experience with our program.”

WiRED’s philosophy of education is similar to that of the Claremont Colleges chapter of MedLife. As stated on its website, MedLife is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that seeks to improve the health and welfare of communities in poverty by delivering aid through medicine, education and community development. MedLife delivers primary care services through Mobile Clinics, hosts educational programs on relevant health topics and develops community projects. 

Johnny Le PO ’16, president of the Claremont chapter, said that although MedLife does not work in the areas affected by Ebola, the organization also believes in taking an educational approach to communities. 

“There’s only so much we can do, and in the end, it is up to that community to take what they have asked for us to bring and then build themselves,” he said. 

Additionally, Crano said that WiRED is investing time into a social media campaign to inform more people about this resource. 

“Being aware of the work that Dr. Crano is doing makes me very happy,” Le said. “I very much believe in the role of education.”

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