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Scientist bestowed with national service decoration

December 16, 2015

By Betty Zou

Dr. Rob Fowler received a Meritorious Service Cross (civil division) in recognition of his work with the World Health Organization (WHO) during the global response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Meritorious Service Cross recognizes individuals who have performed an exceptional deed or activity that sets an example for others to follow, improves the quality of life of a community, and brings considerable benefit or honour to Canada. Governor General David Johnston presented the distinction to Fowler in a ceremony at Rideau Hall on Dec. 11, 2015.

Fowler, who is a senior scientist in the Trauma, Emergency and Critical Care Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute and a critical care physician at Sunnybrook, is no stranger to infectious disease epidemics. During the 2003 SARS epidemic he treated patients and colleagues infected with the respiratory virus. He was also part of the team that provided the first descriptions of disease transmission and progression, and patient outcomes. Then in 2009, when the H1N1 influenza pandemic hit, he led the Canadian effort to characterize the illness and define best practices in treating critically ill patients with H1N1.

In 2014 Fowler was taking a sabbatical year at the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, when the first case of Ebola was confirmed in Guinea. Weeks later, he landed in Guinea as part of the first clinical response team deployed by the WHO to help the tiny West African nation deal with the outbreak. Those early days were a challenge—there were not enough beds, medication or trained personnel to handle the increasing number of Ebola patients. Over the next few months, Fowler would make three more trips to Sierra Leone and Liberia, countries hardest hit by the outbreak, to help set up treatment centres, train medical staff and develop clinical care guidelines. His work in West Africa saved countless lives.

Since returning to Canada, Fowler continues to help those affected by the outbreak. He was recently awarded two grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to conduct Ebola research. The first will establish a simulated Ebola treatment centre to teach medical personnel how to treat critically ill patients. The second aims to examine the health effects of post-Ebola syndrome on survivors in West Africa. He is collaborating with Dr. Neill Adhikari, an associate scientist in the Trauma, Emergency and Critical Care Research Program, on both projects.

Read more about Fowler’s research in Snapshot of an Outbreak (from the 2015 SRI Magazine) and Pandemic Readiness (from the 2013 SRI Magazine).

Dr. Rob Fowler