How to support staff deploying on overseas humanitarian work: A qualitative analysis of responder views about the 2014/15 West African Ebola outbreak

Gideon James Rubin*, Sarah Harper, Paolo Diaz Williams, Sanna Öström, Samantha Bredbere, Richard Amlot, Neil Greenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Responding to health crises overseas can be both rewarding and distressing for staff involved. Objective: We interviewed UK staff involved in the 2014/15 Ebola response to identify experiences that positively or negatively affected them. Method: We conducted qualitative telephone interviews with 30 Public Health England (PHE) staff and 21 non-governmental organisation (NGO) staff who had deployed to West Africa. Results: The main motivations for deploying were for moral reasons and personal development. Families were largely supportive of deployment, although family tension was apparent. Pre-deployment training was largely viewed positively. Common stressors included dealing with death and suffering as well as concerns about contagion, while uplifting aspects included seeing patients improve and receiving thanks from community members. Communications with home were largely satisfactory, although participants commonly self-censored their communication. Inter-organisational tensions caused stress, particularly for PHE staff hosted by NGOs. After deployment, loss of motivation and being avoided by friends and family were common. Conclusion: Highlighting the personal benefits arising from deployments, as well as their moral value, may help to increase volunteering. Efforts to improve the support given to responders should focus on identifying how to better support families, preparing all staff members for dealing with death and the risk of contagion, providing opportunities for staff to more frequently experience the uplifting aspects of deployment, resolving inter-organisational difficulties, and educating others about the low risk posed by responders on their return.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30933
JournalEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to all the participants for helping with this research. Funding statement The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and by an additional grant provided by PHE. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health or PHE. The funders played no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Gideon James Rubin et al.


  • Distress
  • Humanitarian response
  • Infectious diseases
  • Psychological support
  • Training
  • Wellbeing


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