In 2016, I began my journey to becoming a skilled field epidemiologist by joining the Pakistan Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP). The program is well-known for its unique training that prepares fellows to detect, respond to, and take action to prevent and mitigate public health threats by teaching them the necessary skills for action-oriented policy recommendations grounded in scientific evidence. I was quite excited to become part of the fleet of more than 200 epidemiologists trained through the program since its inception in 2006.
Life after joining FELTP Pakistan has meant continuous education, efficient collaboration, and putting knowledge into practice, dedicated work, and action. The program transformed me into a disease detective with the firm belief that “boots on the ground can make a difference”. In addition, we--fellows of FELTP Pakistan--share our work, ideas, and thoughts, gaining continuous insight from our fellow field epidemiologists and mentors. FELTP Pakistan has not only provided me with training opportunities but also with an emotionally connected family.
My vivid memories of FELTP began in the difficult terrain of the hills of Murree, Pakistan, where I responded to an outbreak of acute respiratory infections in November 2016. From that point on, my budding passion for outbreak detection, response, surveillance, and report writing continued to grow throughout my two-year advanced training. It has left me with fond, unforgettable, and cherished memories of not only my time as an FELTP fellow, but my entire six-year tenure with both FELTP Pakistan and TEPHINET.
My countless memorable moments range from joining the three-week screening program for FELTP residents, conducting outbreak investigations, and performing surveillance and field visits, to having my photos and stories featured on the TEPHINET communications director’s office wall and in various publications of TEPHINET and the Task Force for Global Health (TEPHINET’s parent organization). I have also had the opportunity to represent FELTP Pakistan at various international forums including the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network (EMPHNET) regional conference in March 2018, the International Meeting of infectious Diseases (IMED) in November 2018, the European Public Health Conference (EPH) in 2019, and the European Scientific Conference on Applied Infectious Disease Epidemiology (ESCAIDE) in 2019. It has been a roller coaster ride.
Whether it was by showcasing my measles outbreak investigation in the field or inviting fellows to participate in the World Health Organization’s #WearAMask challenge, TEPHINET has always honored FETP fellows by bucking up and motivating us through highlighting our hard work. TEPHINET’s remark of, "Thank you to all who are working hard to keep the world safe!" is so fulfilling. It makes all of the hard work and effort worthwhile and keeps us moving to serve our communities.
In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic came as a test for the whole world. Pakistan, with its limited resources, responded very well. We, as FELTP fellows, worked in teams and got deeply engaged in outbreak preparedness and response. Starting with disease surveillance, we implemented real-time integrated syndromic surveillance response and screened travelers at points of entry (POEs), managed large-scale rapid testing for COVID-19, conducted risk communication and community engagement activities, and applied evidence-based actions and responses to curb the pandemic. A great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment overtook us when we achieved successful curtailment of the fifth wave of COVID-19 following an effective and efficient disease mapping response and vaccination of 75 percent of the country's eligible population. The 24/7 dedication and commitment of frontline workers involved in the response have been critical to keeping our nation safe.
From working as a field epidemiologist for COVID-19 response at POEs to being a training coordinator for skilled workforce development, to addressing health inequities from Torkhum to Gwadar, I can confidently say that women and girls are not victims, but rather agents of change and strength. I cherish the leadership, communication, and advocacy qualities learned from my mentors during my two-year FELTP training, and feel proud of putting my training to use while working as the Technical Lead at Central Health Establishment during the pandemic. FELTP Pakistan has had a direct impact on my career. Through the continued education and mentorship of my respected supervisors, I learned and applied the skills needed to move into my role as a public health professional.
Thank you to TEPHINET for providing me with this opportunity and a platform for empowerment.