Students and global health experts share their global field experiences and thoughts on global health.

Category: Kirsten

All Eyes on Health Security

As I finish up my practicum with the Office of Pandemic and Emerging Threats with the US Department of Health and Human Services, I have been reflecting on how my areas of focus – epidemiology, health security, pandemic preparedness – have suddenly become topics of interest for almost every individual around the world. These issues that used to be reserved for a small but growing group of public health experts have now become the domain of dinner table conversations and social media posts. This made my practicum working with countries around the world on the Global Health Security Agenda and antimicrobial resistance feel increasingly important as we not only combat the COVID-19 pandemic but also consider how to better prepare the world for future pandemics and public health threats.

Exciting to see my work make its way onto the GHSA website as a resource for countries.

Exciting to see my work make its way onto the GHSA website as a resource for countries.

Much of my practicum focused on collecting best practices of sustainable financing for emergency preparedness and response, providing countries with practical steps and examples to mobilize domestic resources for building preparedness capacity and having funds available for rapid response. I spoke with countries such as Argentina, Republic of Korea, Italy, Nigeria, and Thailand on how they have been able to use national plans, legislation, and innovative financing mechanisms to fight COVID-19 and invest in broader preparedness. What I learned was that there is not one “right” way to invest in health security, but there are certain mechanisms that are extremely important to have in place. These conversations also brought me optimism, as one of the biggest challenges noted in the past was that Ministries of Finance and other leaders outside of health often failed to see the value or return on investment of preparedness. Now, with the economic impact of COVID-19 reaching unseen proportions, the return on investment of preparedness and prevention versus response is clear. While my time supporting these global initiatives has come to an end, I look forward to seeing how countries use the COVID-19 pandemic to make the case for investment in preparedness, not just response and economic recovery.

The benefits of a remote practicum include making the most of North Carolina's beautiful hikes.

The benefits of a remote practicum include making the most of North Carolina’s beautiful hikes.

My practicum was also a great reminder that while the world is currently focused on COVID-19, it is by no means the only public health threat we are facing. I also spent much of my practicum researching global progress on antimicrobial resistance, and providing recommendations for future multilateral commitments to ensure that we can continue to make progress towards addressing it. More broadly, we are also seeing how COVID-19 is affecting the delivery of childhood immunizations and life-saving medicines for diseases such as HIV, TB, and malaria, and it will be important to not lose sight of these other global health challenges as we combat COVID-19. I believe there has never been a more important time to be pursuing careers in public health, and I look forward to returning to campus shortly to continue to build my knowledge and technical skills to further health security.

Kirsten

Using a Pandemic to Prevent Future Pandemics: My Experience with a Preparedness Practicum

The first day of my practicum started bright and early with a 7 AM video conference. As I logged in, I began to see faces and names of individuals from dozens of member countries and multilateral organizations as we gathered to discuss the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically meeting in person somewhere across the world, the GHSA was having its first virtual Steering Group meeting to discuss how it can tackle its mission to improve countries’ abilities to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats at this time.

The current crisis we are facing with the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis of preparedness, and highlights the urgent need for prioritizing global health security. Too often, our world has amnesia after facing a public health response and fails to invest in the necessary structures to prevent future outbreaks and epidemics. As the world is currently laser-focused on the response and recovery phases of COVID-19, my practicum with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Pandemic and Emerging Threats team aims to assist countries with making the case for investing in health security at this critical time and setting up sustainable and long-term approaches to public health preparedness.

My coworker Theo, who loves taking walk breaks and resting his paws on my laptop.

My coworker Theo, who loves taking walk breaks and resting his paws on my laptop.

As a current MPH student in Applied Epidemiology at Gillings, my professional and academic career to date has focused on using data and information to understand and combat infectious diseases. Now, as we see a global pandemic unfold and reach almost every corner of the world, epidemiology curves are a regular part of the daily news and disease modeling predictions are debated on social media. This has only further fueled my passion for infectious disease epidemiology, as I plan to spend my career improving detection mechanisms and strengthening health systems to better prevent and respond to emerging threats. However, this response has also shown how quickly protectionist politics can interfere with our ability to support the most vulnerable populations and effectively fight a virus like SARS-Cov-2, so I hope that my work as part of this practicum can help further a global, collaborative, and equitable approach, even if I’m working from my kitchen table here in North Carolina rather than on the frontlines of the response.

Kirsten