Voices from the Field: Susan McBreairty

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NCEH/ATSDR Health Communicator Susan McBreairty and, Ivan Tumbey, co-lead Ebola 101 refresh training. Photo courtesy of Susan McBreairty.
NCEH/ATSDR Health Communicator Susan McBreairty and, Ivan Tumbey, co-lead Ebola 101 refresh training. Photo courtesy of Susan McBreairty.

NCEH/ATSDR’s blog series titled “Voices from the Field” gives readers first-hand accounts of NCEH/ATSDR staff experiences working in communities to protect public health.

This post features NCEH/ATSDR Health Communication Specialist, Susan McBreairty. Read on to learn how Susan helped facilitate communication technical support for the CDC/Liberia Ebola response.

Off to Liberia!

When people ask me about my deployment to Liberia last fall, I answer without hesitation, “It was awesome.” Nevertheless, I’ve caught myself thinking, almost simultaneously, ‘That must sound awful, given the dire circumstances in which Liberians and other West Africans find themselves.’ Truly, there is much sorrow and heartbreak occurring in the countries where Ebola is not yet controlled and far from eliminated. However, this was not my first time deploying to another country. From 2005-06, I served in the US Peace Corps in Eastern Europe. I’ve traveled to Antigua, Guatemala (2007) and Pretoria, South Africa (2012) for other CDC work assignments; but those were only for one week and two weeks respectively. When the opportunity presented itself for me to go to Liberia, I sought approval from my team lead, and I signed up—it seemed like it would be an amazing experience.

During my deployment, I had the good fortune of working closely with the staff at Liberia’s Ebola Response Call and Dispatch Center (Center) in Monrovia. Together with Liberian nationals, I helped facilitate two trainings. The end goal of the trainings was two-fold:

  1. to help end Ebola by encouraging individuals and communities to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the virus; and
  2. strengthen the Center’s infrastructure to remain on the frontlines providing public health information for the Liberian public long-term.

Successful Training

Liberian instructor, Israel Kollie (second from left), helps train staff. Photo courtesy of Susan McBreairty.
Liberian instructor, Israel Kollie (second from left), helps train staff. Photo courtesy of Susan McBreairty.

Computer Skills

The existing Center will relocate to facilities in the new CDC designed Liberia Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for Ebola response. Once relocated, the staff will enter information electronically using the new electronic data management system. As such, we conducted the training in preparation for those changes. The CDC Foundation donated 30 new laptops, and we used five of those computers for our training. The original plan was to have five end users test the system – three call agents and two dispatch agents. With the feedback from the staff, eHealthAfrica staff would fine-tune the system and have it ready when the new call center was operational. However, once we trained the first five staff members, there was another group of five taking their place, and then another five, and so on. It was most gratifying to see their eagerness to try something new and the look of satisfaction when the training session concluded. Big smiles and enthusiastic “thank you’s” told me they’d found the system easy to learn and enjoyed it.

About the CDC Foundation……

The CDC Foundation is dedicated solely to helping CDC do more, faster, by forging partnerships between CDC and those in the private sector – foundations, corporations and individuals – who want to help CDC protect and improve health. Several former CDC directors and leaders helped establish the Foundation and shape our mission, recognizing a viable opportunity to help CDC fill funding gaps and better connect with the private sector.

The Liberian instructor, Israel Kollie, was patient and provided individual attention to each trainee given the small class size. Since the call and dispatch center operates 24/7, we scheduled trainings to accommodate the three shifts. We trained more than 60 staff.

Ebola 101 Refresh

We conducted the second training, “Ebola 101 Refresh,” in a conference room on the grounds of the General Services Agency. This space also included the renovated warehouse where the Ebola Response Call and Dispatch Center was located. Over the course of two and a half days, we trained 80 staff in two-hour sessions. Again, I had the benefit of facilitating the training with the help of Ivan Tumbey, a Liberian national. Ivan, an excellent speaker, was known and respected by the trainees.

Ebola Ecology

One of the slides in the “Ebola 101 Refresh” training was CDC’s depiction of the Ebolavirus Ecology and its likely transmission to humans, then human-to-human transmission. We referred to this slide when we discussed how Ebola is NOT spread:

  • vaccines,
  • air,
  • mosquitos,
  • governments,
  • curses,
  • witchcraft, and
  • divine punishment.

As a result of our work with the Center, there is now a direct connection between the Center and the following:

  • Ministry of Health,
  • Social Welfare messaging committee, and
  • Social Mobilization committee.

The general manager and her designate are now liaisons to those committees. They can provide fresh and relevant information that can aid in answering questions that come through the call center. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to contribute to this cause.

Hope you enjoyed reading about CDC Health Communicator, Susan McBreairty. Interested in other Voices from the Field experiences or NCEH/ATSDR accomplishments? Visit the NCEH/ATSDR Your Health, Your Environment blog!


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Page last reviewed: July 9, 2015
Page last updated: July 9, 2015