In the morning I meet one of the graduate students whom I mentor. As part of their masters of public health (MPH) program, students are required to complete an internship the summer after their first year. During our meeting, I discuss with this particular student the types of internships that might be relevant for the future work she plans to do.
The opportunity to combine work with academia is one of the many advantages of being part of a university system. I have a faculty Instructor appointment at the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and, as part of my responsibilities, I mentor graduate students. I’m also a member of the department’s Masters Committee where we review new student applications. In this role, I’m continuously impressed with how accomplished so many of the students are.
The student I’m meeting with this morning is originally from Pakistan and had been involved for several years in the polio vaccination campaigns in her country. This might not appear very remarkable when we think about the abundance of children’s immunization campaigns that take place here in the U.S., but it is quite significant in Pakistan. In 2011, the CIA enlisted a Pakistani doctor under the guise of an immunization worker to obtain DNA material from children living in Osama bin Laden’s compound to confirm whether they were his relatives. Since then, immunization workers have been targeted by terrorist groups as they were considered to be spies for the CIA. The CIA has recently stated they will no longer use vaccine programs as cover for spy operations. However, the damage has already been done. Since 2011 more than 50 immunization workers have been killed in Pakistan, although many workers continue to put their lives at risk to ensure children are vaccinated. The student and I talk for about an hour. I’m glad to learn that she is planning to go back to Pakistan after she graduates to apply her newly-learned public health skills there.
11:00 AM. Time for the second coffee of the day. I’ve never been a big coffee drinker, but my 8-month old baby is still not sleeping through the night, and I need the extra caffeine.
At Noon, I meet with one of my direct reports to discuss the revision of the aggregate database of our country office in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This brings us to the third pillar of Strategic Information, which is Health Management and Information System (HMIS). ICAP supports the development and implementation of aggregate and patient-level databases used to manage various health programs and systems in different countries. Interestingly, both HIV and Ebola first appeared in DRC. What is it about DRC that makes it special? Both HIV and Ebola are viruses thought to have “jumped” between species through contact with infected blood while handling bush meat, which is quite common in DRC.
In the afternoon, I make revisions to one of the questionnaires for the Mozambique study that was mentioned earlier in the week. The study questionnaires have been translated into both Portuguese and Xitsua, one of the many local languages in the country. Other local African languages to which we often need to translate study materials include Bambara, Xitsua, Bemba, Changana, Lingala, Setswana and Swahili, among others. To ensure the most accurate translation, oftentimes study materials are first translated from English to the local language(s), then validated by back-translating from the local language(s) into English.
One aspect of my work that I truly enjoy is the opportunity to visit amazing countries and meet people in Africa. I become frustrated when people consider Africa to be one single country and may not understand or appreciate the vast diversity and richness of the 54 countries that make up the continent. Africa is quite large geographically – it is the size of the U.S., China, India and part of Europe combined!
An example of the ‘West’ not recognizing Africa’s immensity and diversity occurred soon after my most recent trip to Mozambique. I had called my doctor’s office to schedule an appointment and was asked whether I had been to Africa in the past 21 days. I was aware that this question was being posed to screen for those who might have been exposed to Ebola, but I couldn’t help trying to explain to the receptionist that only six of the 54 countries in Africa have ever had an Ebola case and that I had not visited any of those six countries. The receptionist wasn’t budging. I finally gave up and scheduled the appointment for 21 days after my return from Mozambique.
MOVIES OF THE DAY: “Zero Dark Thirty” & “Admissions”
Today, I’m giving you a double-movie-dose since the movies are only somewhat (if at all) related public health. The first is Zero Dark Thirty, which has a scene that perfectly depicts how the CIA was able to confirm the location of bin Laden’s compound by way of an immunization worker who collected the DNA of children living on the compound. Who would have thought terrorism and public health would be so intimately related. The second movie is Admissions. It’s a bit cheesy and over-the-top, but it reminds me of the work we do when reviewing applications for the MPH program.