Over 27,000 people were sickened by Ebola and over 11,000 people died between March of 2014 and June of 2016. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; Atlanta, Georgia USA) was one of many public health organizations that sought to stop this outbreak. This agency deployed almost 2,000 individuals to West Africa during that timeframe. Deployment to these countries exposed these individuals to a wide variety of dangers, stressors, and risks.
Being concerned about the at-risk populations in Africa, and also the well-being of its professionals who willingly deployed, the CDC did several things to help safeguard the health, safety, and resilience of these team members before, during, and after deployment.
The accompanying special report highlights innovative pre-deployment training initiatives, customized screening processes, and post-deployment outreach efforts intended to protect and support the public health professionals fighting Ebola. Before deploying, the CDC team members were expected to participate in both internally-created and externally-provided trainings. These ranged from pre-deployment briefings, to Preparing for Work Overseas (PFWO) and Public Health Readiness Certificate Program (PHRCP) courses, to Incident Command System (ICS) 100, 200, and 400 courses.
A small subset of non-clinical deployers also participated in a three-day training designed in collaboration with the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS; Bethesda, Maryland USA) to train individuals to assess and address the well-being and resilience of themselves and their teammates in the field during a deployment. Participants in this unique training were immersed in a Virtual Reality Environment (VRE) that simulated deployment to one of seven different types of emergencies.
The CDC leadership also requested a pre-deployment screening process that helped professionals in the CDC’s Occupational Health Clinic (OHC) determine whether or not individuals were at an increased risk of negative outcomes by participating in a rigorous deployment at that time.
When deployers returned from the field, they received personalized invitations to participate in a voluntary, confidential, post-deployment operational debriefing one-on-one or in a group.
Implementing these approaches provided more information to clinical decision makers about the readiness of deployers. It provided deployers with a greater awareness of the kinds of challenges they were likely to face in the field. The post-deployment outreach efforts reminded staff that their contributions were appreciated and there were resources available if they needed help processing any of the potentially-traumatizing things they may have experienced.