When I started working at CDC as a laboratory research scientist, one of the things that interested my supervisor was my ability to speak French, a skill I learned during a postdoctoral research position in Montpellier, France. This was because we had various projects in French-speaking countries. For me, having the opportunity to use my scientific skills and my French language skills to make a difference became a very rewarding experience.
Several years later, I’m fortunate to continue having such experiences. I recently traveled with a team of CDC colleagues to Haiti, where again I was able to use those talents for the benefit of others.
Haiti is still recovering from the devastating earthquake that struck in January. It’s also a country where French is one of the official languages. The CDC team was there to help monitor the health of earthquake survivors and provide additional public health assistance as needed. When I was in the country, there were about a dozen of us from CDC living in tents at the American Embassy.
My role was to examine how well laboratories currently operating in this country were functioning. I also provided training and support to laboratory workers. Notably, I assisted the Haiti Laboratoire National de Sante Publique (LNSP), which is the Haitian government’s National Laboratory for Public Health. While there, I observed laboratory staff performing tests to identify microbes that were causing diseases, gave advice as necessary, and acted as a liaison with the CDC Emergency Operations Center to coordinate the delivery of laboratory equipment and test kits. I also assisted with the English-to-French translation of microbiological test procedures, such as the procedure used to detect leptospirosis, a disease usually caused by exposure to contaminated water.
Surveillance and Support
Again I found my scientific and language skills being used at the same time. In addition to providing laboratory support, along with CDC colleagues I confirmed that the LNSP is able to perform tests and make diagnoses for infectious diseases, including malaria, leptospirosis, and typhoid fever. Quickly detecting diseases such as these is important for the health and safety of all Haitians. This includes Haitians who have had to flee their home and are unable to return, but remain in the country. A person in this situation is known as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP). Many IDPs live in camps, where access to good public health resources can be hard find.
Fortunately, LNSP has expressed their concerns about IDPs and has been working with relief agencies to provide testing for public health surveillance since many relief agencies do not have laboratories of their own. LNSP also is interested in serving as the public health reference laboratory for Haiti. This means the LNSP would use specialized equipment and tests that are not available in local laboratories. As resources become available, LNSP will deploy those resources to local laboratories and provide training.
Continued support for this laboratory and others doing public health work in Haiti will greatly impact the health for all people in this country. That’s why I’m proud to say that the CDC team is still in Haiti doing excellent work, with new team members being rotated in.