Airman returns from front lines of fight against Ebola

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Wilson
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Force Africa Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Before many volunteers could begin fighting Ebola in West Africa, an Air Force major was on the ground in Monrovia, Liberia, paving the way for safe execution of their mission.

As an epidemiologist and international health specialist for the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Surgeon General's Office, Maj. Francis Obuseh was tasked with selecting the site of a recently-established field hospital in the city, which has been hit hard by the epidemic disease.

Obuseh, who was born and raised in Nigeria, was selected because of his expertise in controlling infectious disease as well as his previous experience in the region during the first and second Liberian civil wars.

"Liberia had a 14-year conflict and many (people) were sent out of the country or they went out of the country as refugees," he said. "While they were refugees in Nigeria, I (had the opportunity) to develop their reproductive health program and nutritional health programs at one of the camps."

It was during this time, working for a nongovernmental organization funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, that Obuseh earned a scholarship to complete his master's in public health and international health epidemiology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He would later earn a doctorate in public health/maternal and child health from the same university.

After graduating, Obuseh was driven to give back to the community with the same passion, which steered him into the medical profession.

"I felt blessed to have received the scholarship and I felt that would be a way to give back to the community," he said. "So I felt the Air Force was a more appropriate place for me to do that."

He also felt the Air Force would provide opportunities to work with the broader aspects of his knowledge and in many different areas of the world, like Monrovia.

"I was shocked to see many people who were dead on the streets. I mean, it was a very surreal area where people were sick and we couldn't help at that time," he said. "The hospitals were overwhelmed. Some mothers gave up their own life because they brought their sick children to the hospital.

"But at the same time I saw Liberians helping, volunteering in high risk areas trying help other people who are sick, which is something that I thought was commendable," he added.

And it was for volunteers like those Liberians that Obuseh, the first Air Force medic on site, was laying the ground work by selecting the location of a new field hospital.

"The field hospital is only for health workers," he said. "There is already a hospital for the people of Liberia, but for doctors or nurses or any of the providers or health workers that come into Liberia, both national and foreign, that field hospital is going to be the one they go to when they have medical needs."

Before this hospital was constructed, many nongovernmental organizations and health care providers could not volunteer in Liberia due to concerns for their personal health and safety.

In the process of identifying the most suitable site for the hospital, Obuseh and his team confronted many challenges.

"Trying to navigate the area and knowing that there is a disease outbreak; you don't want to go into a place where you can be easily infected," he said. "So you are trying to be very careful as you go into a community to make sure that you are very safe."

In addition to the health hazards, there was not initially enough transportation available -- a problem compounded by the fact that it was the rainy season in Liberia.

However, after about two weeks working with the U.S. Army, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the Liberian Minister of Health, a site was selected and approved.

Obuseh could return home.

Due to the infectious nature of the disease he was monitored for the 21 days following his return to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where he is permanently stationed.

"It was very weird to not be able to touch people, shake hands or hug your kids for 21 days, but the worst thing you want to do is to hurt the people you love most," he said. "This is not the first time I was dealing with a deadly disease, but I felt if you are dealing with something like this you have to take extra caution just to make sure you don't cause more injury trying to help."

Although the risks for his mission were high, Obuseh said he was honored to be a part of it.

"It was a great opportunity to be part of it and contribute," he said. "It wasn't like it was a great moment, but being able to contribute in small parts, for me, I felt blessed … At the same time it was a unit effort. It is not just one man, one show."