How a “Nerd Club on Twitter” Developed a Saliva-Based Test for COVID-19

Two Sullivan Foundation partner schools—the University of South Carolina (UofSC) and Clemson University—played key roles in the development of a new saliva-based test for COVID-19.

The new saliva-based COVID-19 surveillance test, introduced last week at UofSC, provides rapid results within 24 hours. It is a key tool in the university’s efforts to monitor and contain the spread of the virus within the campus community. The test—which is recommended specifically for asymptomatic cases and offered for free to UofSC students, faculty and staff—bypasses the discomfort of nasal swabbing and is much less expensive to process, allowing retesting multiple times throughout the semester.

Related: UK social enterprise will bypass big drug companies to make COVID-19 vaccine available to the poor

Development of the test might never have happened if not for the efforts of a spontaneously formed coalition of scientists in South Carolina and across the country who worked nearly nonstop and shared results and materials with one another in the weeks before and after the initial lockdown in March. Phil Buckhaults, an associate professor in UofSC’s College of Pharmacy, likened the collective effort to “a nerd club on Twitter.”

“Most of us weren’t even COVID researchers, but we were scientists whose labs were shut down, and we started keeping track of the COVID literature and discussing with each other what needed to be done,” said Buckhaults, a molecular biologist and cancer geneticist in the pharmacy college’s Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences. Buckhaults developed high-throughput genomic techniques to more quickly characterize cancer genomes.

Buckhaults, Michael Wyatt, Carolyn Banister and Michael Shtutman in UofSC’s College of Pharmacy kept their labs running during the lockdown and soon joined forces with Helmut Albrecht, an infectious disease M.D. and clinical professor at the School of Medicine Columbia, to focus their efforts on developing novel testing capabilities. They also collaborated with two scientists at Sullivan Foundation partner school Clemson University, Mark Blenner and Delphine Dean.

Buckhaults pointed to other scientists across the country, including Feng Zhang at MIT and virologist Nathan Grubaugh at Yale, who adopted open-door approaches to sharing with researchers at other institutions.

“There was like three months of time where everybody stopped behaving like competitive academicians who were always trying to get to the punch line first, and everyone was very open-handed because there was this feeling that this might be the end of the world,” Buckhaults said.

One day, Buckhaults recalled, “Nathan blasted out on Twitter and said, ‘We all are going to need RNA standards to get this PCR test going. My post-docs just made a bunch. Anybody who wants [COVID] standard RNA, let me know.’ And I thought he was just talking to his virology buddies, you know, and I just kind of raised my hand and said, ‘Hey, can I have some, too?’ And he says, ‘Absolutely, give me your address and I’ll ship it to your house tomorrow morning.’ And it continued like that, where we were all sharing protocols and results, things that didn’t work and things that did work.”

In the early days of the pandemic, wide-scale testing was needed, but nasal swab tests proved uncomfortable, the results took days to come back (and often still do) and the necessary supplies and chemical reagents were in short supply because every testing site was competing for them.

“Twitter is a place where people just give their opinions all the time, and scientists were like, ‘Why the heck are we doing [the testing] this way? We do this all the time this other way.’ And I’m not even sure who suggested it first, but several of us started looking at saliva,” Buckhaults said.

Albrecht said that saliva testing made perfect sense from a biological point of view, but the sophisticated instruments used to analyze nasal swab samples don’t handle saliva samples well.

“And there are standard operating procedures for these swabs and PCR machines, but that doesn’t help anybody in developing countries where they don’t have the swabs,” Albrecht said. “So we tried Q-tips—everybody can get Q-tips—and they aren’t as good as swabs, but they work. And the scientists have solved some of these other challenges through technical expertise.”

“That’s how saliva testing and scaling saliva testing came about,” he added. “If there hadn’t been enthusiastic researchers who listened to people about what we really need, this wouldn’t have happened.”

This story has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of South Carolina website.

UNC-Chapel Hill Forges Global Partnership to Develop New Drugs for Future Pandemics

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has joined with the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) and the Eshelman Institute for Innovation to develop new medicines that could save lives in future pandemics.

The three partners announced in early April the launch of the Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative (READDI), a global organization aimed at discovering and developing drugs to put “on the shelf” for clinical trial testing in anticipation of future viral pandemics similar to the COVID-19 crisis that has wreaked havoc on the American economy.

Related: UK social enterprise will bypass big drug companies to make COVID-19 vaccine available to the poor

“We are proud to help launch READDI,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz in a statement. “We are also proud of the three schools—the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the School of Medicine, and the Gillings School of Global Public Health—that created this concept and will be collaborating closely. It is uniquely structured to innovate for the public good, just as we do at Carolina. Through this initiative, researchers will be able to create new therapies that will help people live longer, healthier lives.”

READDI is modeled after DNDi, a proven model for non-profit drug research and development.  In READDI, projects will adopt extreme open-science methods, sharing drug discovery progress with other researchers in real time so that all can benefit. The nonprofit aims to raise $125 million to generate five new drugs with human safety and dosing data in five years to be ready for the next pandemic.

READDI’s website notes that most pharmaceutical companies can’t afford to make a drug before there is a market need for it. That means the scientific community can get caught flatfooted by an outbreak of a new virus. Additionally, there are large gaps in the scientific community that prevent effective communications and potential breakthroughs.

READDI aims to solve both problems. Through the organization’s global access model, “READDI will accelerate the pace of antiviral discovery globally for three viral families with the most pandemic potential—coronaviruses, flaviviruses and alphaviruses.”

Related: Victoria Orlando, a Lincoln-Memorial University student, serves the sick and dying in nursing home

According to SGC Chief Executive Officer Aled Edwards, the collaborative effort is overdue. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for the world’s top researchers and drug discoverers to work together to invent new therapies,” Edwards said. “We should have done this decades ago, but READDI has the potential to make sure we are never caught off-guard again.”

Added DNDi  Research & Development Director Laurent Fraisse: “We are excited to support this much-needed effort in anti-viral drug development. We are happy to lend our hand in any way to ensure the global community is better prepared for any future pandemics.”

This article was adapted from a press release on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill website.

Lincoln-Memorial Student Serves the Sick and Dying in Nursing Home

By Summer Martin

Victoria Orlando is studying to be a veterinarian at Sullivan Foundation partner school Lincoln Memorial University, but she recently got a heartbreaking crash course in caring for human patients with COVID-19 as part of her service with the National Guard.

Orlando, a third-year veterinary medicine student at Lincoln Memorial’s College of Veterinary Medicine, was deployed as part of a Joint Force Medical Strike Team with the Pennsylvania National Guard. Their mission was to assist at a rehab and nursing facility dealing with current staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orlando served as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA), helping care for residents, many of whom had tested positive for COVID-19. “I spent most of my time going from room to room checking on the residents, seeing if there was anything I could help them with. This usually ranged from giving them showers to fixing TVs,” said Orlando. “We would deliver meals, help feed residents, get them water, help with basic medical and care procedures, and just spend time chatting.”

The experience was both physically difficult—Orlando endured 12-hour shifts—and emotionally challenging as she saw first-hand the suffering of patients in the facility. “Several of the residents I cared for passed away, and I hit my breaking point putting them in body bags,” Orlando said. “I had a hard time feeling like I did not do enough for the residents while I was there. It was also difficult for me knowing that most of the residents were COVID-positive and their families couldn’t see them.”

Though it was challenging, Orlando said the experience had a profound impact on her. “Everybody deserves to be treated like a person, regardless of their physical or mental state. Respect is a necessity at all times,” said Orlando. “I also learned that even the smallest gestures can have huge impacts. For example, I was able to get several of the residents masks and newspaper articles, and they were so thankful.”

this photo shows Victoria Orlando and her fellow National Guard members in uniforms and masks

During a recent mission for the Pennsylvania National Guard, Victoria Orlando (far left) served as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA), helping care for residents who had tested positive for COVID-19. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. George Roach)

Orlando has served in the Army National Guard for seven years. She joined in 2012 and left for basic training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma in September that year. She enlisted as a 68W health care specialist and combat medic and went on to complete Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

She says her experience serving in the Army National Guard has prepared her to be a better leader in her future career as a veterinarian. “The National Guard has given me a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities. I do not think I would be at that level without the training I have been through,” said Orlando. “This experience has also given me the ability to see things in perspective. Yes, veterinary school is very challenging, but it is a very brief four years, and your whole life is ahead of you. Just push through and move on. That viewpoint has helped me tremendously.”

Orlando looks forward to graduating with her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in May 2021.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Lincoln-Memorial University website.

Rabies Still a Worldwide Health Issue, Says Lincoln-Memorial Expert Bonnie Price

Rabies kills tens of thousands of people around the world, and Bonnie Price, an assistant professor of veterinary health science at Sullivan Foundation partner school Lincoln Memorial University (LMU), doesn’t want anyone to forget the dangers posed by the disease.

Price helps to raise awareness about rabies as part of the National One Health Commission Bat Rabies Education Team. She talks about rabies at continuing education conferences to train veterinary staff on how to educate pet owners in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Most recently, Price presented in February at the College of Science, Technology and Mathematics at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tennessee. Her presentation was titled “Toward the Global Eradication of Canine Rabies: Challenges and hope at the interface of human-animal medicine.”

Related: UK social enterprise will bypass big drug companies to make COVID-19 vaccine available to the poor

“Every year 50,000-60,000 humans die of rabies around the world, and outside of the U.S. it is mostly caused by canine rabies,” Price said. “The global rabies alliance has a goal to end canine rabies worldwide by 2030. This can be accomplished through widespread vaccination of dogs like we do in the U.S.”

Rabies is a deadly, yet preventable, viral disease that can be transmitted to people by infected mammals, including bats. Bats are an integral part of our ecosystem, serving important roles like pollination, seed dispersal, and eating disease-causing mosquitoes and crop-destroying insects. But they also can pose a health risk to people and pets through the transmission of the rabies virus. Not all bats have rabies, but bats are responsible for most human cases of rabies in the Americas.

this photo shows a bat looking ready to bite, although not all bats carry rabies

Not all bats carry rabies, but they’re responsible for most cases of the diseases in humans in the Americas.

Since Price’s most recent presentation, another zoonotic disease has been dominating news all over the world. “I think the link between rabies and COVID-19 is realizing we need to forge strong interdisciplinary teams to address these complex, multifactorial challenges we are seeing at the interface of humans, wildlife and domestic animals,” Price said. “Promoting strong communication skills and interdisciplinary connections is a big part of what we do in the veterinary science curriculum.”

There are strong collaborations among LMU faculty working on interdisciplinary projects in Allied Health Science, the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the School of Mathematics and Sciences.

“Over the last century, science and medicine has become more specialized,” Price said. “Often academics and physicians work in very specific fields, or silos, with little collaboration with other professionals. Rabies in the U.S. is a great example of a One Health success story.”

Related: This Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner beat breast cancer and helps other black women do the same

Through a greater understanding of how the virus moved between and affected domestic animals, wildlife and humans, human deaths in this country were reduced to between zero and three on average each year. This requires the ongoing efforts of professionals from veterinary and human medicine as well as public health professionals, laboratory biologists, environmental scientists, wildlife experts and more.

“We can take the lessons of the U.S. canine rabies eradication and apply them to not only decreasing canine rabies worldwide, but also apply these principles of interdisciplinary collaboration to prepare for and respond to other One Health challenges, such as COVID-19,” Price said.

Price is the Chair of the Veterinary Health Science and Technology Department for the LMU School of Allied Health Science. Before training in veterinary public health, she completed her undergraduate work in anthropology and participated in primate fieldwork and conservation studies throughout Central America and West Africa. Those experiences fostered a strong commitment to culturally competent and multidisciplinary approaches to improve health and wellness at the interface of animals, humans and the environment. Her teaching includes courses such as Zoonotic Disease, Wildlife Disease and The Human Animal Bond.

She lectures for undergraduates across multiple disciplines—including pre-med, pre-vet, nursing and conservation biology—with the goal of creating interdisciplinary collaborations very early in students’ training. She is also active in mentoring student leadership groups on campus. In addition to her work with undergraduates, she lectures on food safety for the LMU-College of Veterinary Medicine. Price earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public Health degrees from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Lincoln-Memorial University website.

Brenau University Faculty, Students and Alumni Guide Georgians Through COVID-19 Quarantine

In the face of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), students, faculty and alumni at Sullivan Foundation partner school Brenau University are working hard to provide education and support for those in quarantine or who are transitioning from hospital to home.

That includes Brenau alumna Brittany White, a medical social worker at Emory University, who educates and assists patients and their families with care coordination, care progression and discharge planning.

Related: UK social enterprise will bypass big drug companies to make COVID-19 vaccine available to the poor

White, who earned her B.S. in health science in 2012 and M.S. in applied gerontology in 2013 from Brenau, said COVID-19 has pushed healthcare workers to be more creative and innovative in their daily practices. “We think critically,” she said. “We look at not just one aspect but the entire picture. We will not always be able to create a solution for everything, but we do everything we can to help facilitate the safest and most effective discharge for our patients.”

White credits her Brenau education with preparing her for the complex challenges brought on by COVID-19. “I work with a hospital system and team that are taking extraordinary measures that are innovative and [who] are all-around pioneers and world-leading experts,” she said. “I get to be a part of that. But if I know anything, as a Brenau graduate, I am like ‘gold refined by fire.’ Each day, I am working through this crisis, sifting, sorting and continuously refining. I love being a social worker, and I love that Brenau molded and refined me into the strong, resilient and leading woman that I am today.”

While White does not provide hands-on medical care, she is still affecting the lives of each person she encounters by offering as much support as possible. Sometimes, that means a different approach to a new problem.

Related: How Brenau University helps unseen and forgotten populations survive the pandemic

“COVID-19 has shown how resilient we social workers can be,” she said. “You get creative, you get smarter, and you work harder to find and facilitate solutions. Social workers are supposed to help patients and communities to cope and thrive in times of crisis and transition.”

An important part of that transition is quarantine care, and a new partnership at Brenau’s Ivester College of Health Sciences will ensure that quarantined individuals get the care and attention they need while also providing a vital learning opportunity for students.

Becky Metcalfe, associate professor of nursing at Brenau University

Through the nonprofit Hope Ripples, students in the Mary Inez Grindle School of Nursing will be providing help to those affected by COVID-19—particularly patients who have been sent home and are quarantined. In doing so, they will also be able to earn clinical hours.

“Brenau is going to be the first group working with Hope Ripples,” said Associate Professor of Nursing Becky Metcalfe, who was already volunteering with the organization prior to the new clinical partnership. “We’ll follow patients who have been sent home during their 14 days of quarantine, making sure to communicate what symptoms to watch for. When necessary, we’ll connect them to resources like food, medicine—anything they need.”

Students meet nightly online with a professor and other students to discuss their clients’ needs as well as their experiences in general. For nursing major Tenkela Williams, that includes gaining valuable experience in the field while also helping others.

Tenkela Williams, left, is one of the nursing students working with Hope Ripples. (Photo courtesy of Tenkela Williams)

“It will not only assist in my communication skills with clients, but it will also provide others with the necessary support they need to get through this virus and not feel as if they are alone throughout the process,” Williams said. “Without this one-on-one interaction, I would not feel as confident entering into the nursing profession.”

All of this is done via phone or Zoom, and volunteers follow a strict script with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Related: University of Virginia faculty, alumni lead effort to combat food insecurity during pandemic

The CDC has been at the forefront of educating and protecting the public in regard to COVID-19, and that’s a big part of the job for Christy Smith, a quarantine public health advisor for the CDC and psychology student working on her master’s in clinical counseling at Brenau.

Smith is part of the preparedness team that works with quarantine stations at the land borders and the two major airports in Georgia—Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. She is tasked with safeguarding the public by staying in close contact with the quarantine teams if they have to respond to a sick traveler. That includes creating and executing various plans with partners such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Throughout the year, the plans are worked on and practiced in case an outbreak occurs.

Christy Smith is a quarantine public health advisor for the CDC and is earning her master’s in clinical counseling psychology. (Photo courtesy of Christy Smith)

While she isn’t providing hands-on care, Smith, who in five years at the CDC has also been involved with responses to other viruses such as Ebola and Zika, is still hard at work preparing those who are in direct contact with the travelers to make sure illnesses do not enter the country. With COVID-19, the team has now switched to response mode, meaning those plans are put into action.

“Everybody has been coming together to respond to this pandemic,” Smith said. “All the effort that is being done to carry out these plans has always been there, but it’s magnified now. I’m proud to be part of it, even though it may not be recognized as much. I see it firsthand, and I know that we have extremely talented people doing difficult work.”

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Brenau University website.

Veteran Seeks to Help Injured Soldiers Regain Full Strength

When Brooks Herring decided to give college a try after serving in the U.S. Navy and working for the Army, he had one goal in mind: Creating a physical therapy program that would help wounded service members get back to the level of strength and activity they had before their injury.

All during his undergraduate years at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of South Carolina, the self-described Gamecock for life says he took every opportunity to have a typical college student experience while never losing sight of his ultimate goal.

Related: Winthrop University freshman leads charity supporting veterans

“I doubted myself coming back to school after all those years,” said Herring, who graduated summa cum laude and with leadership distinction in 2018 with a major in exercise science and a minor in business. “Once I made it through that first semester with a 4.0, I knew I would be OK.”

Herring is in his second year of the doctor of physical therapy program at the university’s Arnold School of Public Health. After that, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in exercise science, focusing on his goal of using research-based evidence to help improve the lives of wounded veterans.

Brooks Herring in 2018, the year he earned his degree in exercise science at the University of South Carolina

Herring served in the Navy from 2005 to 2011 and deployed to Iraq and Africa. He was an Army civilian from 2011 to 2013 and deployed to Afghanistan. He made a commitment to give back to others who have sacrificed while serving their country. “I came home with all 10 fingers and toes, and I feel guilty about that,” Herring said.

“I recognized after I started as a student that there was a need for advocacy on campus. My personality type just doesn’t let me sleep knowing (there’s that need for veterans) unless I’m doing something about it,” added Herring, who was born on an Air Force base in Louisiana and raised in Conway, South Carolina.

He has created Run Phase, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has partnerships in place waiting for him to finish his doctorate so he can begin working with veterans. Herring is working with professors in his graduate program to learn as much as he can about the human body and to use best practices to create a program that will help a variety of injuries.

“A lot of the work that needs to be done will come after graduation,” Herring said. “It will be a clinic with a different approach.”

The goal of much physical therapy is to get the patient able to handle daily tasks needed for independent living, such as being able to get around or take care of personal needs inside the home. What Herring envisions is more like the physical therapy that high-performance athletes undergo to rehab an injury.

“This is a young, physically fit, active and motivated population that has gone from a very high level of performance to a very low level,” Herring says of soldiers who have suffered a traumatic injury, such as the loss of a limb, a severe burn or brain injury associated with improvised explosive devices seen so much during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“You couple that with combat trauma and you’re adding a psychological component that often isn’t even considered during PT,” Herring says. “Our current therapy regimens are getting them nowhere near where they were.”

Herring’s program would take over where traditional physical therapy leaves off — “for those that want to get to the next level of rehab.”

The clinical component for now will require funding because that is not the goal of federally funded physical therapy for service members. But Herring hopes that once he has completed his second doctorate, which will allow him to focus on research, he will be able to show the value of the higher level of rehab so it will be paid for by veterans’ benefits.

“I am able-bodied enough to benefit those who weren’t as lucky as I was,” Herring says. “I know the benefits of physical activity and I want to bring that experience home to others.”

This story was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of South Carolina website with additional material from this article.

 

UK Social Enterprise Will Bypass Big Drug Companies to Make COVID-19 Vaccine Available to the Poor

A new UK social enterprise has been formed to bring a promising COVID-19 vaccine to the world, sidestepping large pharmaceutical companies to make sure it’s made available and affordable to the poorest countries.

Founded by Imperial College London, VacEquity Global Health (VGH) will waive royalties and only charge modest cost-plus prices for the vaccine, enough to fund its ongoing research and accelerate global distribution.

VGH’s social mission is to rapidly develop vaccines to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and distribute them as widely as possible in the UK and abroad. “Right now we think the focus should be on how to solve the problem rather than how to make money out of it,” Simon Hepworth, the director of enterprise at Imperial, told the Thompson Reuters Foundation. “Social enterprise fits with our mission: applying scientific discoveries for the benefit of society.”

VGH is supported by Imperial and Morningside Ventures, a venture investor specializing in companies that develop innovative science for the public good. Morningside and Imperial also plan to launch a separate startup called VaXEquity (VXT), which will develop self-amplifying RNA technology used in the vaccine to treat other health conditions beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

The two new ventures are built upon the research of Professor Robin Shattock, who pioneered the technology of self-amplifying RNA. Shattock is Head of Mucosal Infection and Immunity at Imperial College London and co-founder of both VGH and VXT.

this photo shows the gloved hands of a scientist at VacEquity Global Health doing research on a vaccine for the coronavirus

VacEquity Global Health’s vaccine uses self-amplifying RNA technology to trigger an immune response in a host cell and produce immunity to COVID-19.

For COVID-19, the technology is used to deliver genetic instructions to muscle cells to make the “spike” protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. This protein triggers an immune response in the host to produce immunity to the coronavirus.

The vaccine will enter phase one of human trials with 300 people on June 15. Another trial involving 6,000 people is planned for October. If these human trials are successful, the Imperial vaccine can be distributed in the UK and overseas early next year, Imperial College London reported in a press release.

The quick progress is possible because self-amplifying RNA technology lends itself to rapid manufacturing scale-up, the company says. A large quantity of vaccine doses can be made in manufacturing facilities with a small footprint. The team’s supply chain and manufacturing partners will be ready to produce tens of millions of vaccines from early 2021, the company said.

“We have spent an intense six months to fast-track our vaccine to the clinic,” Shattock said. “Now we are ready to combat the virus through our clinical trials. We are grateful to the thousands of people helping us advance the vaccine: from donors, investors and the government to volunteers for our clinical trials. These new enterprises are the most effective way for us to deliver COVID-19 vaccines quickly, cheaply and internationally, while preparing for future pandemics.”

photo of a sample dish used in research for a COVID-19 vaccine at Imperial College London

If upcoming human trials are successful, the Imperial vaccine can be distributed in the UK and overseas early next year, according to VGH and Imperial College London.

Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said the UK is making “remarkable” progress in developing a vaccine “and the speed with which Imperial has progressed its self-amplifying mRNA vaccine has been breathtaking. Imperial’s technology shows great promise, so I welcome this further move to accelerate development of a potential vaccine.”

Professor Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London, said VGH and VXT “will fight disease, create thousands of jobs and fast-track scientific advances. We are determined to both defeat the current coronavirus and improve the world’s readiness to fight pandemics for generations to come.”

The Quest for Water: Elizabeth De Wetter Organizes 6K Fundraiser to Build Wells in Zambia

Water covers roughly 71 percent of the earth’s surface, yet there’s not nearly enough of it for millions of people in developing countries. In their never-ending search for  water, women and children around the world walk an average of six kilometers or 3.7 miles every day—and the precious little water they can find is often contaminated.

The irony is not lost on Elizabeth De Wetter, a past attendee of the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat and a sophomore majoring in psychology at Sullivan Foundation partner school Sewanee: The University of the South. That’s why she and her team at Strong Women Strong World (SWSW) next gen are working to raise funds for two wells in Zambia while also promoting the upcoming World Vision Global 6K for Water, to be held remotely around the planet on May 16.

Related: “Pledge My Check” campaign asks financially stable Americans to donate their stimulus checks to help people in need

SWSW next gen is a pilot initiative launched in conjunction with World Vision and Brake the Cycle. De Wetter’s project is an offshoot of the World Vision Global 6K—it will raise money for World Vision while providing participants a chance to pay whatever they can afford to enter instead of the standard $50 registration fee. “We realize that many people are struggling financially right now and may not be able to donate that amount,” De Wetter said. “SWSW next gen is offering a sliding scale registration fee for our 6K so everyone who wants to participate can—any amount or nothing at all is OK.”

Anyone who signs up to participate in the race through SWSW next gen’s online registration form can also make a donation towards building the wells in Zambia, helping to ensure clean water for two communities in that country. To learn more or to sign up to participate, click here.

this is a photo illustrating the World Vision Global 6K for Water

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the dynamics of fundraising events like the World Vision Global 6K. “Instead of the typical format of a race, where we would start and finish at the same points, we are encouraging individuals and their families to participate from their own treadmill, neighborhood streets or trails, while respecting social distancing,” De Wetter said.

De Wetter has long been passionate about clean water accessibility and discovered she could make a difference by joining SWSW next gen. “When I heard the statistic that, each day, women and girls around the world will walk the distance of the moon and back to gather clean water, I was shaken,” she recalled. “I was blessed enough to be welcomed by multiple members of the organization who immediately helped me get involved and later encouraged me to contribute with my own projects, which is where the idea for doing our own 6K came from.”

Related: Two Wofford College social entrepreneurs plant a SEED. for global change

De Wetter knows the scarcity of clean water doesn’t just mean people sometimes go thirsty. “Something as simple as a lack of clean water erases almost any and all opportunities for education, in addition to contributing to poor health, hygiene and sanitation, which in turn leads to disease and death,” De Wetter notes. “Each day 1,000 children under the age of five will die from diarrhea caused by contaminated water. These deaths are totally preventable!”

photo of woman in Africa who must deal every day with a lack of clean water

Water scarcity is a gender issue equity in developing countries. Women and girls must collect water for their families every day, which prevents them from getting an education, working at a job or starting a business.

Additionally, since women and girls are typically responsible for collecting water, it’s a gender equity issue as well. “This often keeps them out of school, which means that instead of learning and preparing for a job or starting their own business, they are at an increased risk of assault, child marriage, childbirth mortality and continued poverty,” De Wetter said.

Something as simple as digging a functional well can transform a community in a country like Zambia. “We can provide clean water to an entire village of around 300 people by building a well that costs $15,000,” De Wetter said. “This will allow girls to attend school rather than spending all day gathering water for their families. It will provide women and girls with a means to care for their menstrual hygiene instead of having to put their lives on hold each month. It will free families to focus on their education, businesses and livelihoods rather than spending hours collecting water that will only make them sick.”

De Wetter adds that a donation of $50 can provide clean water to one person for their entire lifetime.

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build a “super farm” to address food insecurity

photo of Elizabeth De Wetter

Elizabeth De Wetter

De Wetter’s interest in changemaking led her to the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat, which she described as “an amazing experience in so many ways.”

“The mentors who spoke and led groups over the weekend were so inspiring, encouraging, and passionate that you couldn’t help but get excited about making a difference,” she recalled. “It was an experience that shifted not only the way I think about problem solving but also my belief in humanity. Being surrounded by so many other young people who also want to make a difference and are actually doing so gave me so much hope!”

De Wetter has found her tribe of fellow changemakers with World Vision and SWSW next gen and wants to continue to enlighten others about clean water and its impact on basic human rights. “I am disturbed by so many of the injustices in the world and passionate about making whatever impact I can during my lifetime,” she said. “This is an area where I can actually make a very tangible impact in a relatively short period of time and truly change people’s lives just by getting the word out, raising awareness and money, and educating people on the importance of clean water. What a miraculous way to use some of my numerous blessings to help others!”

Former Volleyball Star from Cumberland University Now Saving Lives in Pandemic

Cumberland University graduate McCrea Barney has transitioned from the volleyball court to the healthcare field fighting one of the toughest pandemics the world has seen in 100 years.

McCrea transferred to Cumberland from Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette, Alabama. She registered 1,115 assists in two seasons for the Sun Chiefs en route to one NJCAA National Tournament appearance where she met the Cumberland coaching staff.

Related: This social enterprise manufactured 1,500 face shields in five days for medical professionals

“Cumberland was at nationals recruiting and ended up recruiting four of us. When I did my official visit, it felt like home. Everyone was very welcoming. I fell in love with the campus,” Barney said about her recruitment. “Cumberland gave me a chance to gain a degree in nursing and still continue to play volleyball. Not many colleges allow that.”

In 2013, Barney played in every single set for Cumberland, mainly as the team’s libero, collecting 323 digs. She earned Mid-South Conference Scholar-Athlete honors that season.

Her senior year she posted 141 digs and 154 assists in 82 sets. McCrea enjoyed the bus rides the most during her playing career, saying that “…we shared so many laughs. That’s where we bonded the most.”

photo of McCrea Barney in her volleyball team shirt

McCrea Barney

McCrea Barney spent one more year at Cumberland to finish out her nursing degree graduating in May 2016. She has since moved back home to Mandeville, Louisiana, 35 miles away from New Orleans, to work at Lakeview Regional Medical Center. She normally works nights on the Cardiac Progressive Care Unit as an RN-BSN but has been shifted to the COVID-19 unit.

“We get one gown per patient all night unless it gets soiled. I reuse the same mask, goggles and helmet with a face shield all night. I have to wipe them off every time I enter and exit a patient’s room.”

Louisiana currently has 9,150 cases of coronavirus across the state with 310 reported deaths. Over 2,170 cases were reported yesterday causing Louisiana to pass Florida for the fifth-most cases in the United States.

“It’s mentally, physically and emotionally draining. People are dying and suffering alone. This disease is unknown. It’s scary.” Barney added.

Related: Mercer University grad focuses on HIV prevention in Peace Corps work

McCrea Barney not only showed great leadership in her sport at CU but translated it into her profession. She has shown incredible strength, dedication, selflessness and compassion for her community.

She is taking this horrible situation and finding a way to make it positive.”I like learning hands-on so I have learned a lot from this pandemic,” Barney said. “The only positive thing from this is how the community is supporting healthcare workers and my team has worked together. We’ve become more of a family.”

This article was edited slightly from the original story appearing on the Cumberland University website.

This Social Enterprise Manufactured 1,500 Face Shields in 5 Days for Medical Professionals

As medical workers around the world cry out for face shields as protection against the coronavirus, a social enterprise in Malaysia has swiftly mobilized to fulfill the need, working out of a maker space in Publika.

The community of makers, called Me.reka, is part of the Biji-Biji Intiative, a pioneer in Malaysian social entrepreneurship with a focus on solving environmental issues. Biji-Biji empowers people with the skills to design, build and upcycle sustainable products.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to spread, the Biji-Biji and Me.reka teams met with hospital directors and healthcare professionals around Malaysia about the critical lack of protective face shields for front-line medical workers. Me.reka set to work soliciting donations and volunteers via social media and organizing multiple production sites, all with the goal of producing durable and reusable face shields with replaceable parts.

Me.reka rounded up more than 30 industry partners who contributed materials, logistics solutions and machinery to get production on the face shields started, Tatler reports. The community of makers produced more than 1,500 shields in five days and delivered them to medical professionals around Malaysia.

Biji-Biji says it sends three to five replacement parts for each individual face shield unit delivered to hospitals, allowing the shields to be reused multiple times.

According to the Biji-Biji Initiative’s Instagram account, the project had produced and delivered 3,700 reusable face shields and 7,970 replacement parts as of March 31. Their target goal is 18,000.

Other Biji-Biji teams, meanwhile, have been working on and testing prototypes for ventilators and isolation boxes, also in high demand. Additionally, on April 3, the social enterprise announced on Instagram that it had created a functioning aerochamber, a delivery system for inhaler medicine. While ordinarily used by children with asthma and other respiratory issues, aerochambers have become essential tools in the battle against the coronavirus.

“Witnessing the solidarity of Malaysians acting quick, foregoing bureaucracy, going out of their way to mobilize people and resources, taking risks and putting the cause first: it was a profound experience,” Ambika Sangaran, CEO of Biji-Biji Ethical Fashion, told Tatler.