Voices from the Ebola nurses and the implications in the battle against COVID-19.

From this webinar on ‘Frontline Nurses: Leaders in Pandemic Response’ you will get to hear the voices of the Ebola nurses, understand their insights, and consider the implications for all of us today in the battle against COVID-19.

May 12, 2020

During the 2014- 2016 Ebola outbreak that mostly happened in Western Africa, the healthcare workers there confronted a soaring number in contagion and mortality. For the past two years, Columbia faculty on a project sponsored by the Women Creating Change initiative of the Center for the Study of Social Difference have been working to understand how nurses on the frontlines of Ebola succeeded in ending that outbreak, using the methods of oral history to elicit nurses' stories and analyze their significance for health care policymakers going forward.

At this  webinar on ‘Frontline Nurses: Leaders in Pandemic Response’ you will get to hear the voices of the Ebola nurses, understand their insights, and consider the implications for all of us today in the battle against COVID-19.

Program Panelists:


  • Prof. Mary Marshall Clark- Senior Research Scientist , INCITE (Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics) Director, Columbia Center for Oral History Research.

Interview Excerpts and Commentary

  • Prof. Jennifer Dohrn- Assistant Dean, Office of Global Initiatives, Assistant Professor at Columbia Nursing.
  • Dr. Annette Mwansa Nkowane- Former Technical Officer of Midwifery and Nursing, World Health Organisation (WHO) Headquaters, Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Prof. Susan Michaels- Strasser- Assistant Professor Epidemiology (in ICAP) at the Columbia University Medical Center.
  • Dr. Margaret Loma Phiri- Nursing and Midwifery Advisor, Seed Global Health/ Malawi.

Policy Implications

  • Prof. Wilmot James- Visiting Professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

Gender & Nursing

  • Prof. Victoria Rosner- Dean of Academic Affairs for the School of General Studies; Adjunct Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University.


Webinar highlights

Prof. Mary Marshall Clark - In oral history we like to say that we need all the disciplines to understand the complexity of the human person and the networks and communities that are created to sustain us and our world, never has oral history been needed as it is for now. (Time frame from minute 01:18- 01:35)

Prof. Mary Marshall Clark - Oral history is the oldest and most global means we have to understand the full spectrum of human experience and to understand from those experiences. In recent times oral history has been applied to people who have experienced disaster and catastrophe to what they can teach us. (Time frame from minute 03:28- 03:48)

Prof. Jennifer Dohrn - What is essential for nurses today in our global response to the Corona Virus pandemic , Adequate PPE’s  (Protective Personal Equipment)  for all frontline health workers, the critical role that nurses play in infection prevention and control, the need for sound mental and emotional support for frontline workers to prevent burnout and everlasting trauma. (Time frame from minute 13:55- 14:15)

Dr. Margaret Loma Phiri - For nurses to lead it’s based on a commitment and conviction to self, it’s not about money, but it’s about what we believe in, saving humanity. (Time frame from minute 19:08- 19:21)

Dr. Annette Mwansa Nkowane - There is need for continued sensitization of both public and healthcare workers on basic but critically important preventive measures, there is also need for continued standardized training and adherence to healthcare policies and recommendations, also another but overlooked element is the need for mental health and emotional support for health workers. (Time frame from minute 32:58- 33:26)

Dr. Annette Mwansa Nkowane - The current Covid pandemic bares the same marks as the Ebola disease, it is a highly infectious disease and nurses and other health line workers are in the frontline risking their lives, depriving themselves of being with their families. What is clear globally is that countries are not prepared for disease pandemics . What we have learnt from the Ebola crisis would really help in ironing out some of the issues brought about by Covid. (Time frame from minute 35:25- 35:58)

Prof. Wilmot James - The Ebola virus infected 28, 616 individuals from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, it killed 11, 810 people, 881 doctors, nurses, and midwives were infected and 513 died. (Time frame from minute 36:40- 37:05)

Prof. Wilmot James - The vulnerability of epidemic frontline health workers is the story of Western Africa. It has been the story many times over during epidemics and pandemics outbreaks for over the last 100 years and history is repeating itself with the Covid pandemic. (Time frame from minute 37:18- 37:38)

Prof. Victoria Rosner - Nurses play a critical role in working on the frontline during outbreaks of infectious diseases, nurses were key in turning the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This is through the commitment of their profession and community, they continue to show up to work putting their own safety at risk, and delivering care in harsh conditions. They created and upheld hygienic standards, devised protocols for infection control, built resilient teams, and convinced communities to embrace safer practices. In the end, nurses turned around the pandemic with an overall case mortality rate of 40%, all this in the context of; supply shortages, weak healthcare infrastructure, and the lack of effective therapies or vaccines. (Time frame from minute 41:16- 42:15)

Prof. Victoria Rosner - The work and insight of nurses are often not considered when policymakers gather to consider preparedness and response. When crucial decisions are being made, this may seem impossible to believe but it’s a consequence of both the doctors and a hierarchy of medical practice and the fact that nursing remains a profession in which women dominate. (Time frame from minute 43:09- 43:35)

Prof. Victoria Rosner - Though women comprise 70% of the global health workforce, overall they hold only 25% of health leadership roles, these numbers are stark but the situation they summarize is more complex, many cultures think of women as natural caregivers and in this context, nurses may be looked not as professions with the potential to lead and drive policies in planning but as women who provide care. (Time frame from minute 43:44- 44:11)

Prof. Victoria Rosner - The predominance of women in nursing can propagate the stereotype that all nurses are women and that women are meant to be caregivers and not leaders. Gender also intersects with race and class compounding the readiness with which nurses' views are set aside and nurses' sacrifices are dismissed as ordinary and unworthy of recognition. (Time frame from minute 44:30- 44:51)