In honor of World Polio Day, the polio communications team sat down with the lead of the CDC Global Immunization Division’s STOP team Yinka Kerr for a little Q & A.
Q: Yinka, how did you become involved in the global initiative to end polio?
Yinka: I started in polio in 1997 when I did a 6-month rotation as part of my Public Health Prevention Service training program. My supervisors were Bob Keegan and Denise Johnson, who were amazing mentors. I had a taste of what it would be like working in a global health position through being part of an immunization program review in China and writing a financial report in Zimbabwe for the Africa Region of the World Health Organization.
I was on the second Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) team in 1999, where I was stationed in Nepal for 3 months. When I finished my training with the Public Health Prevention Service in 2000, CDC’s polio program was the first place that I came to look for a job and I have been with the Global Immunization Division ever since.
Q: What parts of your experience as a STOP volunteer in Nepal remain the most memorable?
Yinka: I worked with Dr. Choudhury, the national surveillance officer, responsible for tracking polio throughout the eastern region. We were based in Biratnagar and would travel up to where the roads ended to talk to health care volunteers, community workers, private doctors and hospital staff about checking for cases of paralysis to test for polio. I remember thinking that this was an amazing program that brings all people together to work towards one goal—ridding the world of polio. It did not matter that I could not speak their language; just bringing the message that we were all working towards this common goal was unforgettable.
One time we went to check on a paralyzed child that the hospital told us had returned to the village. We headed off to the village in the pouring rain. We crossed through a large creek and arrived in the village where the child was, only to be told that the child had gone across the border to seek health care. We turned around and started home only to get stuck in the rising creek coming back across the river. Luckily, I had some cookies and water that I always kept in the car for food emergencies. We sent a villager who was passing by us on a bicycle back to the village to get a tractor and some villagers who helped to get us out of the mud. Thanks to all, we made it home later that night. These have been and will be the trials and tribulations of everyone who is working to find that last case of polio.
Q: What is your favorite part of leading CDC’s STOP Team?
Yinka: I like the depth and breadth of activities that I do as STOP team lead in order to recruit, train, and deploy the STOP teams. The passion the STOP staff and CDC colleagues instill in people during the training is amazing. Our teams are deployed with expertise in their minds and passion in their hearts. Being a part of it is truly an honor.
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