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By Prof. Dr. Lut Lynen, Head of the Department of Clinical Sciences

The year 2014 will be remembered in our department as the year we had to deal with Ebola, in West-Africa and in Belgium.

In August 2014, months after MSF first called for international concerted actions, WHO declared the Ebola epidemic in West-Africa a global public health emergency. As clinicians and tropical diseases experts we had to prepare ourselves for the eventuality of a possible Ebola patient coming to ITM, Brussels International Airport or a Belgian hospital. One of our clinicians, Erika Vlieghe, was appointed National Ebola Coordinator.

“Long live ITM2020+!” wrote an enthusiastic young scientist, referring to the Institute’s strategy to do more innovative research, as we were setting up an EU funded clinical trial to study the effect of convalescent plasma in Ebola patients in Guinea. Organising a clinical trial in a race against the clock, as the number of patients continued to increase, was a challenge. All partners involved in the international consortium have shown relentless efforts and willingness to fast track this intervention in order to provide hope for patients to finally get a treatment against a disease that kills between 50-80% of infected patients.

I am proud of all these committed people and I am grateful to work with them.

But we also had a full plate of our usual research and clinical activities. Furthermore, we strengthened the research lines in antibiotic resistance and antibiotic stewardship in tropical countries, tested new HIV testing strategies, developed collaborative research projects in the quest of finding an HIV cure, conducted research on diagnostic algorithms for neurologic syndromes in central Africa, and much more.

Thanks to flexibility, motivation, team spirit and partnership we managed to take on the extra tasks related to Ebola. The year 2014 will therefore also be remembered as the year of collaboration, between research and medical units, between clinicians and laboratory staff, with other departments at ITM, including the supporting services, with the government and other implementers in Belgium and the world. When working in an emergency you get to know the people you can count on.

I am proud of all these committed people and I am grateful to work with them. We have the knowledge, and the savoir faire. And we certainly have a raison d’être also in 2020+.