Less than five years ago, the world was transfixed by the largest Ebola virus disease epidemic in history. Following the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided a conservative estimate that there were 28,616 suspected cases and 11,310 confirmed deaths. Numerous aid organizations raced to the affected areas to provide assistance, but many individuals were reluctant to provide hands-on care for patients. This article describes the experiences of those who did volunteer during the Ebola outbreak of 2013-2016.
This study found that volunteers reported having positive experiences that led to profound changes in perspective. Furthermore, many volunteers reported that they had learned things about themselves, such as discovering how strong they were as individuals and how well they could handle difficult situations. Of the respondents, 64% had a greater appreciation for their own lives, and 96% stated that they would go on another high-risk mission.
The study also measured how volunteer participation impacted their families. In comparison to the volunteers, who trusted their personal protective equipment and were largely unconcerned about being infected with Ebola virus or infecting their families, many family members were very concerned about contracting Ebola or becoming stigmatized due to potential exposure. One explanation for this result may be that the volunteers, many of whom were health care workers, were better informed about the risks and protective measures in place. In future outbreaks, recruiters will need to address concerns from the family early on as family members can have a strong influence on a volunteer’s decision to participate.
The results from this study demonstrate that volunteering in a high-risk situation, such as an epidemic, not only improves the overall containment/treatment effort, but also provides lasting benefits for the volunteer.
Summary written by: Taylor Caddell
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Positive experiences of volunteers working in deployable laboratories in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak
Evelien Belfroid, Madelief Mollers, Pieter W. Smit, Marlies Hulscher, Marion Koopmans, Chantal Reusken, Aura Timen