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