Stories of Pride for World Field Epidemiology Day

In honor of the first World Field Epidemiology Day on September 7, 2021, TEPHINET asked FETP trainees and alumni to share stories with us that illustrate why they are proud to work as field epidemiologists. Read the inspiring stories of five FETP-trained field epidemiologists, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Australia, below.


 

Alain Musaka Abera

Graduate (cohort 5), Democratic Republic of the Congo Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program
Field Epidemiologist
Ministry of Health, Kwilu Provincial Health Division, Democratic Republic of the Congo

In August 2020, I was deployed, along with 17 other FELTP members, to Equateur province in the DRC in response to an outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD).

The health zone of Ingende had already reported seven confirmed cases, including two deaths in the community. I had to set up the different pillars of epidemiological surveillance (management of alerts, active research, investigation, follow-up of contacts) and, at the same time, support coordination of the response in the health zone. The task was tough; the means of transport insufficient; communication almost non-existent. It was necessary to travel long distances in the forest on motorcycles that sometimes broke down and to cross the river in a canoe to search for and investigate suspects. It took courage, determination, and will to face these constraints.

From our arrival during epidemiological week 32 to the forty-second day after leaving the treatment center for the last confirmed case, five other confirmed cases were isolated from the community. We listed and followed up with the contacts of these cases. After six weeks of hard work, no confirmed cases remained in the treatment center. We then implemented a search strategy, visiting the health facilities every day so that no suspects meeting the case definition were missed.

As part of cross-border coordination, we also provided support to the organization of the response in another affected health zone, as well as support for operational preparation for the response in a health zone in a neighboring province unaffected by EVD.

Ultimately, we contributed to the interruption of the chain of transmission of the Ebola virus in the province, which led to the declaration of the end of the epidemic in November 2020.


 

Kassim Kamara

Field Epidemiologist, Ministry of Health and Sanitation
Sierra Leone
Graduate (2020), Ghana Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program

During my first year in training at the Ghana Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program, University of Ghana, I was deployed with other colleagues to respond to an outbreak of schistosomiasis at the Nadowli-Kaleo district, upper west region. As an epidemiologist in training, I was curious to learn more and have field experience in outbreak investigations. Together with the district health authorities, we investigated the outbreak and conducted a case-control study to identify risk factors for the outbreak. That was a great and proud moment for me because I was among the team that contained the outbreak in the district. I was not only proud about containing the outbreak but also thankful for the skills I gained in responding to an outbreak of such nature. I returned to class very proud, with improved outbreak investigation skills.


 

Stephen Leshan Koyie

Graduate, Kenya Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program
Veterinarian, Government of Kenya

I am most proud to have been part of the Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program. I have been involved in outbreak investigations of fatal diseases in areas of the country that have never been reached before. We saved the lives of people and animals in the remotest of places in my country. The passion for disease investigation and the desire to save human and animal lives, coupled with the thorough training offered by FELTP, made me carry out my work with a lot of fortitude in very difficult circumstances and very harsh environs. I am very proud of the fact that whenever FELTP teams respond to a health emergency, the impact is instant. For the first time in my career, I am overjoyed by what I do and get to see a tangible impact of the work we do.


 

Stephanie Main

Graduate, Australian Field Epidemiology Training Program (Master of Philosophy in Applied Epidemiology)
Epidemiologist, Burnet Institute and The Australian National University

2020 marked the year that my family went from thinking I worked with skin to actually understanding what an epidemiologist is. 2020 also marked the year I started the Australian FETP. “What a year to start field epidemiology,” people would say. To be honest, it’s been bittersweet.

Seeing the world go through lockdown after lockdown; my home going through lockdown after lockdown; my friends contracting COVID-19; having family pass away overseas and not being able to be there; and not being able to see my family within Australia due to state restrictions. The bitterness of disease is real and its impact on humanity is traumatic.

As a humanitarian, my heart pains seeing the impact of COVID-19 on the world, communities and individuals. What also hurts is the impact it will have on diseases of equal devastation, such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria. “Does that still exist,” people say, when I tell people I work in TB epidemiology and research. “Yes, it is very much still a thing,” and it will be for a lot longer now COVID-19 has absorbed a majority of health resources.

Anyway, enough bitterness. You’ve all lived through 2020; you all know.

The sweetness is there though, and it is ‘epi’cally sweet. I have never been so proud to be an epidemiologist; I’ve never been so proud to work in public health and to work for the common good. The sheer resilience of my colleagues in Australia and abroad shed a light, and the inspiration that garners from that keeps me going. The work we do matters; 2020 was the year of the epidemiologist!


 

Nadia Noreen

Graduate (cohort 10), Pakistan Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program
Team Lead, COVID-19 Response and Screening,
Central Health Establishment, Airport Health Department, Pakistan

Nadia is one of more than 200 trained field epidemiologists working in Pakistan as frontline responders to the COVID-19 pandemic. She serves as the team lead for the airport screening team at Islamabad International Airport.

“Working as a frontline responder has been a blend of diverse emotions; a unique and daring experience,” says Nadia. “It was a manifestation of all the skills and learning from my books, ranging from the involvement of stakeholders to handling political pressures and public anxiety. From human psychological dealings to cross-departmental dealings for enhancing cooperation, it was an experience that at many times was deeply stressful.”

Nadia’s team has screened more than 1.2 million passengers. In October 2020, Pakistan introduced a mobile app to allow passengers to complete their health declaration forms digitally. Nadia was appointed as the focal person for the app for all operational entry points. The respective airports maintained the data received through the app, which was then analyzed to determine compliance and the state of implementation of the app for all incoming passengers.

“The analytical skills I gained from my FELTP training helped me a lot to generate a fortnightly report on the app-generated data and share it with higher authorities,” says Nadia.

The successful implementation of a screening system for travelers at Islamabad International Airport was deemed a ‘gold standard’ for the rest of the country. Maintaining such a system has required tremendous skill and commitment from professionals like Nadia.

“I had to demonstrate keen technical and communication skills to ensure the active involvement of all stakeholders, management of the technical team, up-to-date knowledge of changing viral behaviors, reporting of accurate and timely data to stakeholders and higher authorities, deliverance of timely response on a daily basis, and the absorption of political pressure and management of public anxiety,” says Nadia.

“It has been a unique sacrificial experience being away from home and family for extended hours. It is a fight with an invisible enemy with our point of entry being the battlefield.”