During this year’s 2021 Annual Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) Virtual Conference, both the PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program and the Sustaining Technical and Analytic Resources (STAR) Project hosted a joint satellite session preceding the 3-day conference. On Wednesday, March 3rd, the session titled Resiliency in the Global Health Workforce During the COVID-19 Pandemic included 4 pre-recorded presentations presented by 2 fellows from each program sharing their experience adjusting to changes of the COVID-19 workplace pivot. This was followed by two program information sessions. The total session had an attendance of over 150 people tuning in from around the world, which included PHI/CDC colleagues, STAR Project colleagues, and CDC personnel.
THE FELLOWSHIP EXPERIENCE:
Vikas Kapil, DO, MPH, Associate Director for Science/Chief Medical Officer for the CDC Center for Global Health moderated the first part of the satellite session by welcoming all session attendees and introducing the session.
The panelists highlighted their COVID-19 Response related work assignments. PHI/CDC fellows have been able to participate in COVID-19 Detail Assignments; these are short-term work assignments for CDC’s Emergency Operations Center. As of March 2021, 47 fellows from the PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program have served or are currently serving on a COVID-19 Detail Assignment in the past 12 months.
“The objectives that we have identified for this session are for the panelists to share their experiences and the lesson that they have learned in their work, to help guide future [public] health professionals in their activities particularly related to COVID-19 response, and how the pivot, globally, to COVID-19 activity will better inform and prepare the global health workforce.”
– Dr. Vikas Kapil
Shortly after Dr. Kapil’s introduction, attendees got to hear from our four panelists: Courtney Sciarratta, MPH and Jahn Jaramillo, MPH from the PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program, and Mohammad Kibria, MBA, MPH and Dr. Ghulam Qader, MPH from the Sustaining Technical and Analytic Resources (STAR) Project.
Courtney Sciarratta, MPH has worked on many projects in her 1.5 years with the fellowship, one of her recent projects including development of a COVID-19 dashboard identifying target populations for phase 1 of vaccinations. On her COVID-19 Response Detail, Courtney felt a renewed sense of purpose in her work after hearing first hand the health disparities faced by underserved populations during the pandemic.
“I spoke with well over 100 people during this time and many of the calls lasted 30-45 minutes as people shared their personal experience. I slowly noticed a stark difference in health outcomes in minority populations and it shook me… With this, I discovered a new found motivation. It was a reminder that the numbers we stare at everyday are living breathing people, and they want to be heard.”
– Courtney Sciarratta, MPH
Jahn Jaramillo, MPH worked in the Central America CDC office for 2.5 years, where he managed priority disease surveillance projects in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. As an overseas-based fellow Jahn was evacuated to the United States where he began his COVID-19 Detail Assignment with the Global Migration Task Force. This COVID-19 Detail Assignment taught Jahn that culturally aligned public health messaging is key to building trust in communities.
“In order for us to improve COVID-19 message dissemination and trust between public health and multicultural communities, diverse channels could be used to share COVID-19 information – particularly in preferred languages and in plain language…. One of the most important things I’ve learned here is how much work still needs to be done in service of diverse communities. Even when resources are provided, there is no guarantee that people will use them in their identity and cultural norms are not taken into account.”
– Jahn Jaramillo, MPH
Dr. Ghulam Qader, MPH has been a STAR Fellow based in Afghanistan since February of 2020, when the WHO announced COVID-19 as a global emergency. Since then he has worked with the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan to lead the National Contact Screening Committee on Tuberculosis contact investigation practices. Dr. Qader was also involved in the development of policy briefs on reducing the effect of COVID-19 on Tuberculosis, which was implemented by the Ministry of Health. Relationship building with other public health professionals was key for Dr. Qader throughout the pandemic.
“Leadership skills such as mentoring, coaching, feedback, and emotional intelligence were very important during the pandemic. We managed to be in contact [with our colleagues and also with STAR fellows] every day… This was all important to have our tasks accomplished and to reduce the impact of the pandemic on health activities including TB.”
– Dr. Ghulam Qader
Mohammad Kibria, MBA, MPH has been in his role as a STAR fellow for over a year, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. His work focuses on the development and roll-out of existing and emerging Health Information Systems in Bangladesh. On top of regular Tuberculosis related activities, Mohammmad also worked on a monitoring & evaluation plan for the COVID-19 Response Mechanism, and supported the response with his program analysis skills.
“What the future holds will be a little bit changed, during the post-COVID-19 era… I believe the digital future will push us to embrace new technology, to acquire new skills especially like coding and data analytics… I believe we need to sharpen our soft skills… so that countries can recover the losses they have faced.”
– Mohammad Kibria, MBA, MPH
Q&A AND REFLECTIONS:
After these presentations, Dr. Kapil moderated a Live Q&A session with all four panelists. The panel addressed questions regarding their biggest takeaways from their fellowship program, the greatest challenges they have faced, and insightful tips for aspiring public health professionals. The discussions during this Q&A highlighted how there will always be a need for interdisciplinary thinkers and experts when it comes to advancement in the global public health world
“The key thing I think we heard from all four of you is going ahead and bringing it to the table—if you’re passionate and you’re committed, and you’re compassionate about public health and about doing good public health work—everybody brings some unique things to the table which might be very, very valuable depending on which programs you end up working in.”
– Dr. Vikas Kapil
As we approach the one year anniversary of many of our jobs shifting to remote work, the stories, challenges, and lessons of these fellows resonate with many of us. This past year has required employees in all sectors to work more independently, while also navigating a higher demand for intentional collaboration. The coordination of this satellite session is a prime example of the silver lining of our workforce ahead. Though our global workforce has required swift adaptation to new circumstances, these circumstances also challenge us to further develop our skill sets and master new platforms of communication.
-Jasdeep Dulay, Administrative Assistant