Global Health Security: Expanding into other Continents
By: Emilya Huseynova
When I look back and try to see at which time point the passion for becoming a public health professional and researcher was born, I can see that it actually happened back in 2008, following graduation from Medical University. After obtaining my medical degree in my home country Azerbaijan, my first experience as a public health professional was in an extensive public health program implemented in Former Soviet Union countries including my home country, where apart from functioning as a research physician to conduct public health surveillance studies among the population to better understand the burden of both established and emerging infectious diseases of epidemic/pandemic potential, which could also be used as biological weapons, I also had an invaluable opportunity to witness and actively participate in host-country (i.e., Azerbaijan) capacity-building activities, including upgrading public health laboratories, introducing biosafety/biosecurity practices, training epidemiologists/clinicians, establishing an electronic disease surveillance system, and moving the public health system from passive to active disease reporting. This passion brought me all the way from Azerbaijan where formal public health education barely exists, to the United States to pursue a graduate degree in Epidemiology. While I was eager to learn about methods of epidemiology and data analysis tools during the first year of my master of public health study, it was obvious that practice makes perfect. With such a specific research interest as studying the epidemiology of infectious diseases that may cause a public health emergency and especially those with bioterrorism potential, it was a great luck to have done my applied field experience with the Global Health Security Group within the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit of RTI International Inc., Durham, NC.
During the two months of the internship, I had an opportunity to work on a project regarding Zika virus. As known, the Zika virus epidemic occurred in 2016 mainly in the countries of South America, which then spread to the United States, creating a public health emergency. As the mosquitoes carrying this virus inhabitate in multiple parts of the United States and disease transmission still occurs here, it becomes very important for the general public to be aware of the disease caused by Zika virus and to understand basic prevention measures. This is accomplished via public health educational activities, including the role of the media. The project I completed here consisted of updating an initial manuscript, which was prepared based on a survey conducted in 2016. The Global Health Security team I was working with was willing to update the information obtained then, by comparing it to another survey that was conducted early 2019, understanding the changes that have occurred since then. It was a very interesting task for me, given that it provided insight into how public health surveillance is implemented. This also allowed me to utilize the data analysis and writing skills I have obtained during my professional experience and a year of master’s education in epidemiology.
The applied field experience was not a mere requirement to be met, but a unique opportunity for me to understand how international public health projects are implemented to benefit the global community, how multi-faceted the term “global health” is as it relates to meeting the health needs of the developing countries and to increasing their national capacity to recognize, respond to, and prevent infectious diseases of global health security concern in a timely manner.
Being able to network with professionals working in the field I am passionate about and getting to know the projects they are implementing to serve human health globally made these two months very rich and full of excitements. I was introduced to some of the global health projects that are currently ongoing in Kenya, Tanzania, Guinea, etc. to include a broad range of diseases, such as Zika, Ebola, and other emerging infections.
I was also given a chance to present in a brownbag session for RTI International employees, in order to share my experience with the clinical/epidemiological research team in Azerbaijan as part of the Collaborative Biological Engagement Program of the Department of Defense, USA, as well as the overarching role of this program in establishing/advancing host nation’s preparedness towards infectious disease emergencies.
Overall, this internship was full of opportunities and ideas for shaping my future career interests and what remains now is using the gained experience wisely towards contributing to the global health community.