Episode: 265 |
Olivia Chioma Elee:
Fighting Ebola:


Olivia Chioma Elee

Fighting Ebola

Show Notes

In today’s episode, Olivia Chioma Elee shares her experience fighting the Ebola epidemic in Nigeria and Liberia. She coordinated a range of programs including contact tracing and coordinating the logistics for the command centers throughout Liberia. Her work involved participating in the daily briefings at the Health Ministry, running training campaigns targeted at healthcare workers, and visiting sick patients in the field.

Olivia has a Masters degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and previously worked at Deloitte and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Today she is an independent consultant with a focus on strategy and operations.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman  00:01

Hello and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which connects you with the world’s top management consultants. And I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m so excited to be here today with our guests, Olivia Chioma le, who is an alum of Booz Allen and Deloitte. And she worked on fighting the Ebola viral disease or EBD, in West Africa. Olivia has a Master’s in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. And she’s an independent consultant now working across different industries. But she’s here today to talk to us about what it was like fighting Ebola in West Africa. Olivia, welcome to the show.


Olivia Chioma Elee  00:50

Thanks so much wells. Great to be here this afternoon.


Will Bachman  00:54

So how did you end up working, fighting Ebola in West Africa and tell us a little bit about what your role was?


Olivia Chioma Elee  01:03

Sure. Well, in some ways, it was a little bit serendipitous. I had been based in London for a period of time, and I was reaching out to my network, getting to know different people since I was nearly based in London. And this woman was really great. She misses in the beginning of the end of 2013, going into 2014. And she was British. And she told me that actually, there was a team that desperately needed me in my area. And so she put me in touch with this team. And I ended up it was working alongside who and I ended up moving to Nigeria to work alongside this team. And it was really fascinating, because operationally, they were focused on vaccine delivery, and immunizations. And they needed more operational support, helping streamline that. So I worked with a range of partners, and really got to use a lot of my management consulting skills there. And so while I was there, we were watching what was happening across West Africa, nearby, so Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, we’re starting to see more and more incidents, more cases, new cases of Ebola. And then Ebola hit Nigeria, and Nigeria is the largest, most populous country on the continent of Africa. And so there’s hundreds of millions of people there. Whereas in the other countries, it’s much smaller. And you’ve got massive cities, like Lagos has over 15 million people there. And that’s where you go ahead. And it was quite something else. So from there, we started, like all the work that we’ve been focusing on, immediately switched to focusing on Ebola. And we worked with a range of partners, but the work that we focused on from there was ensuring to help stop the spread of this disease as quickly as possible.


Will Bachman  03:36

So tell me a little bit about so help anchor me a little bit. So first, tell me what was what was your role? And who who are you actually working for? were you working for the wh o or different NGO?


Olivia Chioma Elee  03:50

Right, so So in, so I worked, so my work across the pandemic happened in two countries. I was based in Nigeria, first throughout 2014 and 220 15. And then in 2015, I moved to Liberia, I was asked to come to Liberia to help because that’s where the disease was really ramping up. And maybe I should talk more about that because the caseload there was so much more devastating than in Nigeria, and Nigeria was kind of seen as one of the exemplary countries and how they were able to stop the amount of cases at a period of time where it was spreading in neighboring countries. So Nigeria was able to keep it under 50 people, whereas Liberia had 1000s of cases. So when I left Nigeria, I moved to Liberia. I was working on a CDC funded project and that program, rapid response to add in West Africa, through strengthening of surveillance systems and disruption of team teaching and transmission. That’s a whole long convoluted way of saying this is a US government fund. Did program with a small NGO, a small tech company. And what we were doing was around three main like scope of work. There’s a large program that effectively was a detailed project manager, and the three components around using technology to focus on surveillance. So that included, like development of an early disease warning system, and assisting with contact tracing and doing streamline data collection. The next bucket of work that I was overseeing was logistics and procurement. And that was through an emerging mergency management and preparedness pillar, where we helped ensure the running of the emergency operating Center, which allows all key stakeholders holders to report daily on any incidents across the country of Liberia. Also, the needs and concerns that arose from all the different partners that were working together. And of course, moving products from A to Z. So whether it’s from the ports, to the different, like areas of the countries where different operating centers were located, because there was a total of 16. And you had all of the different partners from around the world that were in Liberia, in Sierra Leone in Guinea, working together to stop the spread of disease to break the transmission. So the different types of partners that they worked alongside, just to follow up with that question was the US Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and try, which is Clinton Health Access Initiative.


Will Bachman  06:43

So tell me a little bit about the sounds like there’s a lot of stuff going on. I’m curious to hear about some of the details here. So maybe let’s start with the contract, contact tracing part. So how did that work in practice?


Olivia Chioma Elee  07:01

Yeah, that’s a great question. So tracing works, when you have a system that’s in place, that allows essentially data collection to take place after people have been tested. Right, so you have a case of someone that the main person has been exposed to the virus, or has tested positive to a virus, and then you essentially, effectively quarantine this person. And then you find out where they’ve been over the last several days. So you are collecting information on where they’ve been? Who was there, and putting all the information into a database. And it can be very simplistic. I mean, I’ve seen it done with just piece of paper and pen and a notepad, and then that information is compiled together and put into a database. Or it can be completed into an electronic database, which is, you know, much more preferable when you have so many people that have been exposed to a disease. So that’s really what contact tracing is, and then you check up on all of those people that the original contact was president, potentially, next to so potentially had exposed someone else to the virus?


Will Bachman  08:28

And how did that work in practice, in Liberia? You know, even just the interviewing the person who has been tested, would someone kind of literally be in just that room with them wearing personal protective equipment? Or would they call them? How did it practically work to go out and collect that contact tracing information?


Olivia Chioma Elee  08:51

Right now, that’s a great question. So that it depending on if that person was already very sick and had clearly been exposed, and clearly also had the disease, then the clinicians would be the one who were completely protected and and getting that information from the person who has the disease, I mean, thinking about Ebola, Ebola, it has much a very high case fatality rate. So in, in West Africa, during 2014 2016 pandemic, its fatality rate was close, it was between 60 and 65%. So more than half of the people who contracted Ebola died, so it was considered very virulent. So and the period of time from when you contracted it to when you started to present with symptoms, and then eventually died was very, very short. It was within less than three weeks usually and it was a very short turnaround. And so it If you had potentially been exposed, for instance, the main person is in a hospital and they’ve been there, they’re sick. And you know who they’ve been in contact with. The people who would then go and follow up to the other people their contacts, depends on how long that they’ve been in touch with that person. So either a clinician would go or, you know, community health worker could go and check up and see how this person was doing. And then you would follow up with them for a period of 21 days. So it really depended on how, how long ago you were in touch with the main contact, and how, and just going from there touching base with them every day for three weeks? And to see if they actually did contract the disease.


Will Bachman  10:47

Yeah. And is in a situation in Liberia. How was the data being collected? I’m curious, maybe they’d sort of just leapfrog systems, Was there some kind of an app? or some kind of, you know, you know, phone app that people were using? Or was it all paper and pencil? How are you? Right, you know, maintaining all this info centrally, and then making sure that someone was in fact, you know, dispatch to go check on all these people. And hearing back from the person who checked on my found them, I didn’t find them sounds like a real massive data management, you know, issue.


Olivia Chioma Elee  11:24

It really was. And so one of the things that Liberia and the other countries had in West Africa, where many different partners, so many different, like global agencies that moved into these countries to operationally support that kind of work, right. So you could have an an agency like the like UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s organization, that could help do contract tracing. That’s an example. There were other organizations that were all assisting, because there were so many people that had to be to be tracked. And then depending on what those results were, you would give different follow up. So sometimes the follow up was those people died, right. And so in order to determine that, who actually did die of Ebola, there was another agency, for example, that was helping do dead body swabs. And then that those swabs were collected and sent to the central laboratories. in Liberia, there were five specific laboratories across the country that were collecting that kind of information and then sending it to the Capitol, which is where the Ministry of Health that which is where the largest emergency operating centers that with all the partners to, to literally collate that data. So whether it was an app, and one organization could be using an app, another organization could be using paper and pen and then transferring that information into an online database, just based on the connectivity. So these are certain things that, you know, created such challenges, because you don’t have the type of telecommunications connectivity across the country, in some parts of West Africa, like Liberia, whereas here, I mean, in the US, you can pretty much get reception anywhere. I mean, there are parts in the US where there isn’t as great connectivity and reception is not as good. But in other parts of the world, like in many parts of Liberia, that’s the norm, the connectivity is very poor. So it created challenges, being able to get that data and centralize it on a regular, quick, efficient basis.


Will Bachman  13:57

Now, what about sort of communications out to the public of, you know, in, we’re certainly seeing in the US, there’s been, shall we say, some mixed messages about the seriousness of the Coronavirus, and we know how important it is to stay home and so forth. What sort of messages were being sent out in Liberia, and how hard was it to convince the population to you know, to follow the guidance.


Olivia Chioma Elee  14:33

So, because the virus was spreading in different areas, there was a lot of fear initially. And when you have that level of fear and the lack of education in some of the areas that the disease was spreading, it was very difficult to at least initially to be able to educate people on what to do. So it’s, it’s not, it’s not uncommon to see the mixed messaging in the beginning, especially if your countries and novice dealing with a pandemic. So it’s understandable that mixed messaging could first come out. But it’s how quickly you recover from that is the most important thing to remember and to focus on, if you have experts that are available on the ground, that can help communicate very clearly and strategically what needs to be done, then the population has a much better chance of understanding what they can do to contribute to stopping the, the transmission of the virus. One of the things also that Liberia really had to deal with was even the ability to communicate to everyone. I mean, there isn’t the level of connectivity, you have villages and towns that don’t have power. So it’s not like you could turn on a TV in any in every household and see your leaders communicating what should be done, what’s not be done, that didn’t exist. So a lot of work had to be done on the ground with community health workers and users to educate them first. And then to help literally get out information such as billboards, or posters, or radio adverts, where people would be able to actually hear the messaging on what they could do, what they should do if they feel that someone in their family or in their community might be sick. So that was one of the challenges that they had to learn and deal with, in the first, I would say, several months of the pandemic.


Will Bachman  16:46

And, and what when, what was the message that was being sent out? Was it about like, isolating, staying home not going to the market? Or what sort of messages was the key? communication? So


Olivia Chioma Elee  17:00

sure, so. So the, the messaging that was very, was made very clear was, yes, indeed, of making sure to wash hands a lot. One of the things that the country’s also implemented was the idea of every public space that anyone in these cities or communities was going to be entering would have an enforced temperature check. So you had people at the doors of every building of every store of everywhere, every entrance point, checking, doing a temperature scan to see if you had a temperature, and then you also in order to enter any of these buildings, any of these premises, you had to wash your hands under a stream of bleach water. Wow. So yeah, so that was very, that became the norm, like, if you were entering any building, you were going to rinse her hands with bleach water. And I remember, within my first week, my, the palms of my hands were just peeling from all of the bleach. And I said to myself, you know, this is good, it’s important that this is being implemented. But that’s in public spaces. So in terms of what was happening in people’s homes, just from, you know, studying public health and working on research studies, when I was right out of college, I knew that the data showed that changing people’s behavior is difficult, that takes time. But reinforcing the messages of the improved potential for changing your behavior was really important. And so there were radio adverts that were being given, you had local leaders, showing the community what they were doing, and that it was okay to do that as well, you know, to be safe, and that there’s also like, these cultural norms that all societies have, where when your loved one is not well, you want to take care of them, you know, and you want to be to be there to prepare them. So it’s very hard to watch, especially now here in the US where there are funerals that are not being attended, that people are dying alone in hospitals. It’s, it’s so it’s so heart wrenching to hear and to understand that, and that’s something that has happened around the world. And that’s very different. That was very difficult to, to just know that in, especially in Liberia. The families didn’t want that. And so they would bury their own. It was cleanse their own bodies, especially in the beginning, they were burying them and so it was spreading the virus before people even could get tested to understand that this was sweeping through villages just sweeping through different neighborhoods because of that fear of well, not wanting their family and our loved one to, to die alone.


Will Bachman  20:11

And what what change of behavior eventually? Did people have to do did people? Does it mean like if you had someone who was sick with Ebola dude, just stay in there in a room by themselves and you would not go in and take care of them or when people were like peepee, or to go in or not bury their dead or like what ended up what kind of change behaviors happened.


Olivia Chioma Elee  20:34

So, so the biggest changes of behavior was when a lot of international organizations started coming in, and, and literally, so you had your cert, you had your healthcare workers that were coming in locally and from around the world, that were literally looking at investigating potential outbreaks. And so when it would be located, that there was an outbreak in a particular area, and that this was spreading, they realize, Oh, we have to be careful, we have to understand that this person didn’t die of malaria or didn’t die of. I mean, there’s a range of infectious diseases that proliferate, sometimes in different times of the year and West Africa, that this was not those diseases, that this was actually something different. And so this is why these clinics, clinicians, these healthcare workers are coming in and trying to communicate and let people know that if your loved one is experiencing these types of symptoms, you have to let someone know, you have to alert your local health care authorities. So that really helped also change behavior over time. Let’s have education. Yeah, let’s


Will Bachman  21:53

tell me a little bit about the actual building that you are working in. I’m curious to have you paint a picture for us of like the command center, I’m imagining kind of the White House war room or some, you know, like NASA control room or something but but tell us tell us what it actually was like the place that you were working and and then I’d like to hear about kind of a typical day for you of what what you were involved in?



Sure. So yeah, it was I definitely wouldn’t call it like a NASA war room. But so I would head over to my building was in was a renovated, my office was in a renovated building that had been built was the regular office building, if you will, I mean, more like tiled floors, an air conditioning unit, that was super loud, and very spotty internet connections. And so when you’re using like Google Docs, and Google, like, everything, that internet connected as bodies that are hopefully saved all of your information on so I would either start my day off there early, like between seven 730. And then there were daily meetings at the, at the EEOC emergency operating center, based in the Capitol, and that was long side that had been built by the team. And that was at the Ministry of Health. So you would drive over there before eight o’clock at 8am. Every morning, there was a meeting with all of the heads of agencies that were represented, to talk about any incidents from the night before, what was going to be accomplished that day. And what the, if there were any new cases, and just literally what needed to be done for the day. And if there were things that were issues between the other organizations, and gave the opportunity for other organizations present to address it, or to be able to help provide potential solutions for that our meeting every day. And that, that room that building was, I guess the best way to explain it is I kind of think I mean, it was it was very basic, I will say that, you know, it’s like it would all these cars always like organized like these SUVs would pull up with the symbol of your organization. And your driver would sit inside and wait for you or get out and talk to the other drivers. I mean, that was a bit of a luxury but I don’t drive stick and you would walk across this gravel, ground, lots of rocks and then you would go Go in and talk to all of the other agency representatives and understand how many potential cases there had been. Where people able to get to that particular part of the country. What was running out? What were the things that needed to be ordered, or reordered? Were there any issues with getting like PP ease in from like the port to like different parts of the country? There were flat screen TVs in their projection screens as well, the connection, the connectivity was pretty good there. I mean, you couldn’t not have a good there’s a Ministry of Health, they had to be excellent there. Because sometimes you were streaming in people in Washington, or people in Atlanta, or people in Geneva, or New York. So the connection was pretty good there. But it was very, it was small. I mean, there was it wasn’t really a place where you were going to really an proper office. I mean, it was literally built to people for meetings. And I wish I could think of I don’t know if you know what there was like, there’s What am I thinking that the types of cars that those mobile vans, it was kind of like that, like a very large mobile building that was built that could, that had two big rooms in it. And that one big room, which was a conference room had tables and chairs and flat screens was very simple, very basic. There were outlets, and then people were there for about an hour, sometimes you would have meetings, and then you would leave. So you would come back the next day. So people would stay longer to like discuss other things, other issues. But


Will Bachman  26:55

yeah, so there’d be pretty much right. So it was like a central coordination authority, the health ministry that was coordinating all of the response across all the different agencies that were procrastinating. That’s interesting claim, interesting concept.


Olivia Chioma Elee  27:11

And that was run by the Minister with the junior minister, who provided great leadership. Minister Tolbert, and he actually was a graduate turns on Tompkins as well. So yeah, very, very, he was a junior minister, but very well respected, had a lot of authorities very calming presence. And, and you almost see that it’s very different that kind of like Incident Command, emergency operation center is very different than, you know, the command system that or Command Center, as you’ve seen in the US, I mean, this was very basic their bones that was built to be able to provide the necessities for the teams that were there. So this is, again, very different than what you would see the us with our very sophisticated system here.


Will Bachman  28:05

And then what would happen at the end of that meeting, Was there somebody who was kind of taking notes and would send out the, you know, kind of recap of all the action items and the status, everybody’s everybody had kind of the document of what they had to do that day. Exactly. That’s exactly right. All right. That’s exactly. Tell me a little bit about you said that another element of your job, so then walk me through kind of like the rest of your day. So you go to this central Incident Command Center, everybody gives their update, they get their marching orders, they they hash things out. And then what’s what’s the rest of your day typically look look like? What are you dealing with?


Olivia Chioma Elee  28:47

What was the name dealing with? I mean, it rains from for example, maybe I would leave there. And then I would go to our local large laboratory, Li br, which was the main laboratory, where all of the samples that were being made done, all the testing that was being done was being examined at that hospital. So if there were potentially any backlogs, I would go there to understand what was happening. And to be able to literally develop quick solutions to clear the bottlenecks to clear any backlogs. And that was being run pretty efficiently. With the support of the Department of Defense, the US Department of Defense. They created an operational system that made things so much more efficient. Once they were there before they were there, there was not the level of systematic organization that was necessary that was efficient. So that would be an example.


Will Bachman  29:51

Yeah. Can you can you remember any examples of kind of roadblocks that they were facing and maybe a solution that you helped to develop?


Olivia Chioma Elee  30:00

Sure, so for example, there were times where there was not the ability to literally connect with other laboratories. And that would be literally due to telecommunication issues. So these laboratories were, in these specific laboratories that were identified were in different parts of the entire country spaced out. And so there was another laboratory that was within a couple hours dry. And the connectivity was virtually non existent for a period of time for a short period of time. But it was, it was still a critical time in the country. And so literally are me and one of my tech team, one of my tech like network administrators, and I drove out there to investigate and see what the issue was. And he literally climbed up a telephone pole. I was so nervous, I was thinking, Oh, my God, I can’t believe this guy’s but he literally climbed up a telephone pole to understand what was the issue. I mean, that’s the kind of work that we had to do. And he literally was, I mean, people there are so brilliant, you know, they figure things out, they are able to do anything, given the opportunity. And he literally climbed up a telephone pole. I, I wish I had those pictures. I think I have them somewhere, but climbed up the telephone pole and, and rewired something. I would never know how to do that. I’m afraid of heights. Anyways. Guy climbed up a telephone pole and fixed it right that there and we drove back, a two hour drive. And that issue was solved.


Will Bachman  31:45

Amazing. So taking decisive action and climbing poles when necessary. What? Okay, so whatever it takes, so you say Okay, so then. So a day might include a visit to the testing lab, what what other sorts of things might you be working on during a typical day?


Olivia Chioma Elee  32:05

Another example, would be working with our counterpart, at the center, at the Centers for Disease Control the CDC, we would be discussing with them the disbursement of the funds, and understanding where perhaps some of the funding should be focused on for the future. So, for example, if we realized that more information needed to be communicated to some of the healthcare workers, because one of the things that happened was a lot of just like what’s happening here, a lot of health care workers were getting sick. And so they wanted to increase infection prevention control measures, and to really help communicate to the health care workers how to protect themselves. So there was investment there that was made to help do education and to also get better equipment available to the healthcare workers, whether they were the low skilled healthcare workers, or the more highly skilled healthcare workers in hospitals. So that, for example, you’d have discussions on how best to do that, and how best to quickly move on to being able to do that. Tell me another example.


Will Bachman  33:25

Yeah. So tell me about that. Like, how did you end up getting? So what kind of equipment were you trying to get out there? And how did that actually work to get better? I assume that you’re not gonna like personal protective equipment? How did you get that out into the field and get it to the right hands?


Olivia Chioma Elee  33:42

Right. So so they so their procurement systems that were in place to help make that happen, whether items were being procured and and then once they arrive, getting those items shipped, or, you know, move logistically, from the ports, to the different spaces that they were meant to be. That was something that those supplies, those supply chains were created and improved. But what we hope to do with reinforced that kind of training that was so necessary that was so critical. CDC was took the lead on that it was so important, because they were the frontline, they really needed to understand how best to protect themselves and to also stay as healthy as possible. But to also understand why to understand how, and this was the other time that the disease was spreading in different ways, just like we’re learning in real time now that this disease was spreading in different ways. So they really took the lead on that and they were amazing and ensuring that but also helping develop literally marketing materials, so like posters and billboards, those things were to educate the workers to help them on. Understand how this disease was spreading, and how to best prevent it from help protect themselves for contracting.


Will Bachman  35:09

So, so in a place where you may not have TVs in every house and connectivity across the country, you were working to get billboards put up and marketing materials put up. And I don’t know, flyers handed out across the whole country on how to protect yourself. And what were sort of the what were some of the communications to those healthcare workers about? Was it to wear a mask or gloves? Or was it what sort of directions were you giving out?


Olivia Chioma Elee  35:38

Yeah, so if the whole It was a consortium that was that was really taking the lead on doing that. But the different types of communication would be, you know, how to wash your hands, you know, ensuring to ensure to use the bleach and the bleach water. Your basic hygiene is a basic, but your infection prevention control measures, like creating protocols, making sure that those protocols were delivered to all healthcare workers and community health workers. So they understood what they needed to do to decrease the spread of the virus to themselves. Those were some of the instances. And then also, some of the things that I got to work on was literally focusing on some of the logistics and the procurement aspects of things. So again, you know,


Will Bachman  36:34

tell me about that. logistics. Yeah. So even running an EEOC takes a lot of work. You know, I had direct reports that were officially in charge of running those different ERC. So someone had to be there to make sure that everything was literally open, to make sure that connectivity was in place across the different eras use, so that they would all literally connect and be turned on at the same time. So from the capital, Monrovia, where the Ministry of Health was, and then to the other 15 year seeds that were placed strategically around the country, there was a team member that was there, at the same time, making sure that all the TVs synced up, and were connected, so that you can hear what was happening in the first state, the second states and throughout all of the 16 states, which had 16 MCs total across the country, making sure that because there, you know, isn’t the level of connectivity that we have here in the US, a lot of things are powered through. They’re not just powered through having normal lights, like as a public utility. So you have to have generators everywhere, in order to have generators everywhere, you need to ensure that they’re filled with petrol, and then you have to keep them running. So literally even getting that getting petrol to all of the IR C’s on a regular basis, to the the generators would work to run to keep the lights on. I mean, everything you can think of, of running an office, that kind of work fell under that logistics and procurement and operational work. Under that little pillar of work. Tell me something. Tell me some of the crises that came up. There must have been, you know, ones almost every day, I’m curious to hear some of the things that you had to overcome.


Olivia Chioma Elee  38:38

Yeah. It’s a great question. So for example, if someone I remember, when I first got there, and we had people in quarantine, has to be quarantined for 21 days, because they had been contact trace, they’ve been exposed, and we have to see if they were going to develop the virus. And I was going to check in on that. And just learning that, you know, people are living in different areas around the world and knowing that, because they’re quarantine you have to provide for them, or at least that’s what the government was doing, which was great. So the people that were literally under enforced quarantine, after they had been contact Harry’s got to bring them food on a regular basis. So that was being done and getting to understand some of the choices of the people that were angrily under our anger were angry due to being under quarantine, understanding and listening to them and talk to them about their frustration. That was really eye opening as well. And then also getting to understand the environment that they were currently living in. Again, this was like air Those that are outside of the city, the main city. And so people live a very different type of life. There’s no running potable water, for example. So the clean water supply is through like, you know, it’s provided through a large, essentially a very large tank that’s put inside of these communities, that people can go and fill up, well fill up a container so that they have fresh water for the day or for the week. And if you’re under quarantine, you don’t have access to that. So really trying to understand what some of those challenges were for those people and, and writing that up, and they aren’t we have to, we have to, we have to provide for them, we have to figure out how to make sure that they stay under the quarantine and get them what they need.


Will Bachman  40:53

So and how would you? How would you personally protect yourself? What What would you what equipment were you wearing when you went into to chat with people?


Olivia Chioma Elee  41:03

So I, again, I so I had, I didn’t wear full out. teepees including like the plastic material and the the gowns, I only did that when there was like a very specific case that was identified. And in order to get there, you had to step into like a bucket of a bucket of bleach, essentially. And raise your hands of bleach water. And you have to go through three layers of three inner rings of that to like get even into the most inner ring of a patient that had Ebola. But in the in the villages that were being contact trace, you had to rinse your hands with bleach, and wipe down your suit of bleach, and I would wear these like very thick soled hiking boots that were very waterproof. And you would spray and then from there, I would be able to I had I had protective goggles. And and that was it. I didn’t get in the range of being next to someone that was being contact trace, if you will. I mean, I had at least 12 feet in between me and anyone that was being contact trace. And so I was able to have dialogue with them from afar, if you will.


Will Bachman  42:36

Wow. Okay. What were some of the things that just surprised you about this whole experience? Are that? Yeah, what were some surprises for you?


Olivia Chioma Elee  42:48

Yeah, so I would say that one of the things that really surprised me was how the country of Liberia particular, how it was, I would say, I thought I always had an impression in my mind of what it was like, it was very different from when I arrived there. Liberia is a very interesting country, just culturally, and historically, it was one of the only, it’s the only country in the entire continent of Africa that wasn’t colonized. And it had just had, I shouldn’t say just but not even 12 years before, it had seen the end of a long standing Civil War. And I remembered hearing about the Civil War and seeing some of the images when I was quite when I was much younger. But what I was surprised to see and hear about was that people talk about the Civil War as if it was yesterday. They were so so I really in some ways, felt that the country hadn’t really recovered from that civil war that raised from the 90s, into the early 2000s, mid 2000s. And then you have this disease that sweeps through in 20, end of 2013 2014 2015 2016. And so there wasn’t enough period of recovery from the Civil War, that killed so many people that devastated the economy, that generations of people didn’t even get a chance to go to school because they were hiding, they were at home, it was so dangerous to be in that that type of a war zone to life stood still. And that’s what it felt like in many ways during that time as well. That’s life. We’re standing still. So there were periods of time. I remember seeing even before I got there, when I was still in Nigeria, I remember seeing that there was this one particular area called West Point and it’s considered it’s a slum in The capital Monrovia, that borders that Atlantic. And I’ve never forget in my hotel watching on TV, that they were enforcing a quarantine in this entire area. And that’s where the majority of librarians lived in the Capitol. And I just thought, my goodness, they’re doing what you did, like centuries ago, to prevent a disease. And I just thought, Wow, this is amazing that that’s what’s happening. And that was in 2014. I was thinking that and here we are in 2020. And I’m so clustered at home in Brooklyn apartment in quarantine. So you can imagine like how discombobulating that is right? Oh,


Will Bachman  45:41

yeah, absolutely. What were some things that might have been different? You have a Master’s in Public Health from probably the top, you know, public health school in the country, or at least one of the top, you know, Johns Hopkins, right? What were some of the differences between the theory that you learn in school, and when you went to apply it in real life of what it actually takes to to battle a pandemic?


Olivia Chioma Elee  46:08

That’s a really great question. I would say that what’s so important is, when you’re in, when you’re in school, everything, for the most part that you’re learning is, in many ways, theory, right? It’s theory or its history, and you’re learning from things in the past. And so your ability to be able to apply it in real time is, is, is important with the current context. So there are some great courses that I took, that really helped me with being able to understand, okay, there are certain things that you have to understand that take priority that really needs to be focused on first. So whether you’re working in an environment in a setting, or you’re working in a setting that’s transitioning from emergency to transition, setting, to quote back to normal, if you will. And I think that was something that I valued, about my training, my my education, being able to understand that, yes, the end of the day, you’ve been trained well, but you also have to really rely on your own personal training, your understanding, and your just critical thinking skills and your current, the current context of your environment, because it’s just going to always be different.


Will Bachman  47:43

Yeah. What’s a myth or a misconception about working, you know, working on a pandemic, that that you can challenge for us?


Olivia Chioma Elee  47:55

Oh, well, I would say that. One of the things I think, is important is Remaining Remaining, really remaining calm. I think that one of the challenges that we had, during that time was, and what I’m seeing now is the, the miscommunication that happened Initially, I think that that’s something that, unfortunately, tried to say this in the nicest way, but costs that time wasted, could equal loss lives. Right. So I think one of the things that was really important is to understand and assess that situation, and understand the importance and the greatness of the situation, and act swiftly. And that takes very strong leadership. And that takes clear understanding and decisiveness. And having good a good team around you to understand, you know, these are the calculated risks we’re going to have to take and knowing that you made the right decision. So and at the end, knowing that you won’t really know what the right decision is. But you have to make it fast. I think that’s something that’s really important.


Will Bachman  49:26

Well, you demonstrated some incredible improvisational ability and get it done, whether it’s, you know, getting diesel fuel to the right place to run the generators or fixing the the telecom situation, maybe things that they didn’t teach at Johns Hopkins, but are critical to public health. Olivia where, I mean, I could we could just go on for hours. I’d be fascinated to keep hearing about this. See, we’re at the top of the hour where where can people who wanted to, you know, catch up with you or learn more about your Have you work today working with corporate clients? Where can people find you online?


Olivia Chioma Elee  50:05

Yeah, I’m, well, I’m on LinkedIn, Olivia choma up. I’m on LinkedIn. So always happy to connect and share more about some of the great lessons learned. And also, just in terms of, you know, the work that I’m doing now focused on strategy and operations and customer experience. I think that in particular, now as the way we live and do business, it’s going to change so much since COVID-19, here in the US, and it’s just going to, I think the businesses that are going to really stand out are going to really have the customer in mind and being able to, you know, focus on them and what their needs are. So I always love discussing that, thinking about that and applying those different lessons learned. So I’m on LinkedIn, probably the easiest way to reach me also, my email is Olivia cle@gmail.com.


Will Bachman  51:01

Fantastic. And we will include your LinkedIn profile. link in the show notes. Olivia. You know, your experience. That in Ebola gives you this amazing perspective on how companies should be thinking about Coronavirus today. Thanks for sharing some of your stories. Really appreciate you having you a guest on the show. Thank you.


Olivia Chioma Elee  51:24

Thank you so much. Well, this has been such a pleasure and I hope you and your family stay safe. And I know we’ll all come out of this. Sooner or later stronger,


Will Bachman  51:34

I think so take for the opportunity. All right. Goodbye.

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