Epidemiologist and infectious disease immunologist Mosoka Fallah, M.P.H. ’12, has been on the front lines for many months in his native Liberia battling the Ebola epidemic, which began in December 2013 and spread through several West African countries. He was among the Ebola fighters named Time’s 2014 “Person of the Year.” In an interview at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Fallah discussed what he learned during the outbreak and what needs to be done now.
You were dealing with a deadly crisis that exploded in Liberia and other countries in West Africa. How did you deal with the epidemic in its early stages?
I learned about doing contact tracing—finding all of the people whom each Ebola patient came in contact with. We had to have people who would leave no stone unturned. We did training and then retraining. We dismissed people if we had to. It was very stressful. It got better along the way, but it was tough in the beginning.
The emotions were rough. We interviewed moms who’d had all of their children die. We saw pregnant women suffering. I saw one woman give birth in the street to twins because she didn’t have $300 for the private hospital. I talked to a nurse who told me that she cried every night. I had trouble sleeping. All of us who took part in the fight now need some kind of support.