The 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak was an unprecedented public health event, and in addition to claiming over 11,000 lives, it resulted in the deaths of more healthcare workers than any outbreak in recent history. While a cadre of willing and able health workers is essential for an effective epidemic response, health workforce capacity in times of crisis may be significantly impacted by how risks are perceived by health staff. This study aimed to explore how risk perceptions influenced healthcare workers' willingness to respond during this outbreak.
Through in-depth interviews with 11 front-line international health care workers who chose to respond to the West Africa outbreak, this qualitative study explores how perceptions of risk developed and subsequently mediated the decision to respond to the outbreak. Data was thematically organized using NVivo 10.
We found that numerous individual and social-level factors played a role in modifying risk perception in health workers. Institutional trust emerged as a key risk attenuator, as did past experience, self-efficacy, duty of care, humanitarian ethos, and cognitive heuristics. Feelings of risk were amplified by infections of co-workers, and risk perceptions of family members and the public, which were mainly informed by media reports, also hampered willingness to respond in some cases.
Understanding the risk perceptions of health workers, institutions, and the public, while complex and interdependent, are each crucial to understand for an effective public health response to epidemics, and as such should be taken into consideration in future program planning and research.