This is the sixth in our ongoing “Fresh Voices From the Field” series, where we hear from ASPPH (Association of School and Programs of Public Health) Global Health Fellows working throughout the world. Global Health Fellows are recent Master of Public Health or Doctoral graduates placed in CDC global health offices in Atlanta and abroad. They work on a range of priority public health issues and bring a fresh perspective to CDC’s efforts in the field. (See other “Fresh Voices” blogs.)
As part of a joint project exercise, the U.S. CDC and Vietnam’s Ministry of Health pretended there were suspect cases of avian influenza A (H7N9) and coronaviruses that surfaced in Vietnam. Then CDC and Vietnamese experts convened to observe Vietnam’s public health machinery spring to life.
Calls were made; emails were sent; samples were collected and laboratories began testing. The Ministry of Health was notified of the pending emergency. They performed several different types of analyses, compared the results to seasonal trends, and practiced reporting out to decision-making bodies. A strategically organized effort to contain and prevent additional cases was in full swing.
This scenario was just a practice drill but may be all too real with the H7N9 virus infecting people and poultry in neighboring China. Hence, it is critical that Vietnam’s Ministry of Health is fully prepared to quickly and effectively respond if there is an H7N9 outbreak in Vietnam. Vietnam, after all, shares a border with China and enjoys robust trade of poultry and other commodities with China that are prime candidates for transporting the disease.
The exercise demonstrates important questions: If Vietnam has a confirmed H7N9 case, how does Vietnam’s Ministry of Health respond? How are people informed and most important of all, how does Vietnam prevent the virus from spreading from poultry to people?
Since March 2013, I’ve been working on a project in Vietnam that helps address those very questions. The answers are important far beyond Vietnam, which is one of only two countries selected for a demonstration project that evaluated emergency response capabilities for disease outbreak. Global health security is one of CDC’s highest priorities and we worked closely with Vietnam to enhance the country’s emergency response systems, including laboratory testing capacity and analyses of disease surveillance data.
As an ASPPH Fellow, I was in charge of assisting behind-the-scenes logistics, planning, and management. Over just a short six months, I saw first-hand how experts at CDC worked tirelessly, above and beyond their normal job duties with their Vietnamese counterparts to jumpstart a project, building a solid foundation so that Vietnam will be able to respond to infectious disease outbreaks faster and more efficiently. I understand better now why investing in global health security is so important and how it will save more lives and prevent diseases from spreading worldwide.
Although I’ve always known about CDC’s reputation for their science-based technical expertise and research, being in a field office highlighted the value of the in-country relationship with Vietnam that CDC has fostered for over a decade. I quickly realized that the influx of technical expertise would be underutilized if not for the partnership and trust that the CDC Vietnam staff and the U.S. mission have built. It’s this concert of both breadth (field offices) and depth (expertise) that makes CDC a premier institution and effective international partner. I am inspired to take what I learned about building partnerships in the field and apply it to my future endeavors in global health.