Ebola Survivor Ashoka Mukpo Speaks Out to NBC News

NBC News' Kate Snow sat down with Ebola survivor and NBC News freelancer Ashoka Mukpo on Wednesday. Here are extra excerpts from their interview.

Ebola Survivor Ashoka Mukpo Says He’ll Go Back to Liberia 5:48

KS: How exactly do you feel right now?

AM: There's definitely some physical effects of this that I think are going to last a while. But I can feel my strength coming back every day. And, I mean, there was a period of time that I was quite sick. And, you know, I was laying in a hospital bed and had no strength. Had various pains. And and just all kinds of funny stuff going on in my body.

Right now, I feel like there's a little bit of a road to walk before I'm 100%. But, you know, to be honest, I actually feel pretty good and very blessed. I'm just about as fortunate as a human being can feel. And there were moments that I didn't know what was going to happen, so it's nice to be here.

KS: From the descriptions I've heard of Ebola, it's a nasty, nasty disease. Can you describe what it's like to have that disease?

AM: I would liken it to the worst flu that you could ever have. I mean, I just felt at certain points that everything in my body was under attack. And, you know, there was not so much the physical pain, but I would say that the hardest part for me was the fear.

…I was in Liberia. And I knew the kind of, you know, statistical situations that people were facing there… I had definitely seen people die in Liberia. I've seen-- I saw things that I will carry with me forever.

KS: Did you think about your family? Did you think about your girlfriend?

AM: Every day. You know, my girlfriend in particular, that's a person that I love just so deeply. And I'll be honest with you: As much as I was afraid for my own life, the idea of leaving her was just horrific to me. You know, we have such an intertwined lives with each other, I just couldn't even contemplate that.

…That was the hardest thing actually, even more than fear of death, was the idea of leaving behind someone that I loved that much.

KS: Talk about why you were in Liberia in the first place. You have a long history with Liberia. You lived there for a couple years, right?

AM: I was in graduate school. And there was an open call to do some summer research in one of three countries in Africa. And I'd actually never been to Africa. And I thought, "Hey, you know, this sounds interesting. Why not give it a shot?" And I wound up in Liberia and just never looked back. You know, as soon as I got there, I got sucked into the issues that were going on. And I felt like the research that I was doing was in an important field, that had a lot to do with how its future was going to pan out.

KS: What field was that?

AM: I was looking at natural resources. So the, you know, the economy of the country's kind of based around exploitations of natural resources. And it has a lengthy history of that not going well. And I think there's legitimate questions about how well natural resources are being managed now.

And you can see that there's tensions that have existed between communities and companies. And it's just something that still needs to be, you know, looked at. And solutions need to be found. I feel like it was really useful work. And I wound up plugged in with some folks that were, you know, local activists and local advocates that had been doing work around this stuff for years.

And they were kind enough to give me a job and to welcome me into their family. And it was just an amazing, inspirational group of people to work for that, you know, they knew their stuff, they were plugged in with a lot of organizations. And I learned a lot with them. And they were a great two years.

KS: You left Liberia last summer. Why did you decide to go back?

AM: When I left Liberia, the Ebola crisis seemed like it was under control. It was the kind of thing that, you know, folks were living there had been kind of nervous about. And we'd all kind of known, you know, Ebola is in Liberia… But it seemed like it was under control.

And then through the summer it started to get worse and worse. And I just started to have a really hard time seeing some of these things happening, and, you know, getting some of the media reports and feeling like, "Okay, this country that I have this connection to, that this crazy thing is happening." And I just felt compelled to go back. I have training as a journalist.

And I felt like I could be useful in heading back and helping to cover the crisis. I know how to talk to people in Liberia, I had familiarity with the governing situation politically and just the whole environment. And I felt like I was going to be able to help raise a spotlight on what was going on and, you know, get the word out and maybe help with some of the efforts to get the international community to mobilize and send help.

KS: Would you go back to Liberia?

AM: Yeah, under the right circumstances, absolutely. But I think in the immediate future is not going to be the right time. And I'm actually hopeful that the situation in Liberia is starting to get under some semblance of control. These are some of the rumors that I've been hearing that burial teams are picking up less bodies. The ETUs are less filled. So under the right circumstances, I would think about going back. But for right now my priority is just getting my health together.

KS: You've said a couple of times that you wish that people would think about West Africa.

AM: Absolutely. That's where people's attention should be. Look, the reality is that we have an incredible health care system. It's staffed by talented professionals who know how to treat deadly diseases. And for us, I know it's hard for people to understand this, but we actually don't have much to fear.

This is something that people who work at a health care facility might have to be prepared for. But the average person on the street in America has no need to fear Ebola. People who do are the people who actually have the least access to what they need to survive.