What an Ebola Nurse's Experiences Can Teach Us About Healthcare Workers' Mental Health in a Pandemic

Aug 26, 2020

Cheedy Jaja arrived in his native Sierra Leone to help with the Ebola crisis in 2014. He came back a different person.
Credit Cheedy Jaja

Cheedy Jaja grew up in Sierra Leone. He came to the United States to study medicine and became a nurse practitioner.

So it’s not much of a stretch to see what drew him back to Sierra Leone when the Ebola crisis broke out in 2014. He felt a call to go home and help.

He wasn’t prepared for the things he saw.

What Jaja took from his time as a frontline clinician during last decade’s Ebola crisis is startlingly translatable to what’s happening with COVID-19’s frontline workers – the frustrations, the sense of dread, the worry among healthcare workers about how effectively they are doing their jobs, and the guilt for being terrified to go to work when it is you who scared, sick, and suffering people need the most.

In addition to what you will hear in the audio version of this story, below, Jaja spoke to me about the absolute need for medical institutions to provide mental health counseling to healthcare workers as a kind of new opportunity. Just as Ebola gave healthcare workers a new understanding of what it means to treat a plague, it gave mental health professionals a crash course in understanding something fundamental – that healthcare workers who live through the horrors of a pandemic are survivors too, as prone to emotional issues and as open to compassion as anyone else.

For Jaja, the ultimate answer to COVID-19 will be a group effort.

“We live in a global society,” he says. “We shouldn’t look at COVID in any narrow confines. It’s a global problem and the solution should be global in nature.”

Click below to hear much more from Cheedy Jaja.

Scott Morgan is the upstate Multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio. Follow Scott on twitter @ByScottMorgan. And follow South Carolina Public Radio @SCPublicRadio, or on Facebook.