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A Day in the Life of a CAST Alum: Alan Janssen, Health Sciences

Alan Janssen

Illinois State alum Alan Janssen '75.

Alan Janssen ’75 works as a health communication specialist in the Global Immunization Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

The College of Applied Science and Technology’s “A Day in the Life of a CAST Alum” series is designed to shed some light on how CAST alumni spend their days. As with many careers, our alumni will tell you that every day is different, but this series aims to provide a peek into an alum’s world.

Friday, March 6, 2015

6:30 a.m.: I immediately began work on preparing a report detailing overnight media activity, searching Web news and social media sources to identify issues that could affect global vaccination efforts. The purpose of this report is the early identification of problems and concerns that could affect the operations of CDC or its global health partners (WHO, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the Measles and Rubella Infinitive, and country Ministries of Health). Today, there is a high level of news interest in vaccination efforts in countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. In these geographic regions, GID and its international partners have disease prevention and vaccination efforts under way for polio, measles, and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Because recent events in countries in these regions have the potential to impede or disrupt our country-level vaccination efforts, CDC shares the information in this report with its partners around the globe, as well as own public health staff, to allow them to immediately address potential problems or concerns.

8:30 a.m.: I attended the biweekly polio incident managers meeting in CDC’s Emergency Operation Center to review the current status of global polio operations and plan upcoming interventions in polio-endemic countries (countries where polio has never been stopped—Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan), as well as in countries where polio outbreaks have reoccurred—currently Syria, Somalia, and Equatorial Guinea. Team leaders presented country reports from each region of the world affected by polio in person or over the phone, quickly summarizing disease prevention and vaccination activities and any problems that should be addressed in these select countries. Today, there is good news from Nigeria about polio vacation efforts that have greatly reduced the number of polio cases in that country, and several team members display a cautious optimism that this trend will continue. My part in the meeting is to talk about the work being done by communications team members in Equatorial Guinea and the efforts that have been made in training the country’s Ministry of Health and UNICEF staff in social mobilization to improve that country’s polio eradication efforts. Training in Equatorial Guinea is challenging because it is the only country in Africa where the official language is Spanish, which requires that the trainer be fluent in Spanish. Fortunately, one member of the communications staff spent her childhood years in Mexico and can easy translate difficult terms and concepts about communications and social mobilization into Spanish. I also reported that one other staff member left Atlanta last night to develop communications materials for vaccination efforts in Mongolia.

10 a.m.: Work begins on responding to a request from Science magazine to answer questions about the potential for a large measles outbreak in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, where there has been an Ebola disease outbreak since last summer. Science will be publishing a disease modeling report that provides an estimate about how serious this outbreak could become, and the reporter is asking for background information about a potential measles disease outbreak. Due to the Ebola outbreak, the public health resources of these countries, along with those of the international health community, have focused almost exclusively on stopping Ebola. Because routine immunization programs have basically stopped in these areas, a large number of people remain unvaccinated, leaving them susceptible to measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. As a result, there have been several cases of measles in the three Ebola-affected countries. The challenge now is finding a way to continue efforts to end the Ebola outbreak while also taking steps to prevent measles and potentially other preventable diseases from creating still another serious disease outbreak. CDC medical epidemiologists in GID had identified the potential for a measles outbreak late last year; they continue studying the problem so they can provide answers to questions that further explain this potentially dangerous situation. One of the doctors told the reporter that “it makes no sense to save children in Liberia from Ebola just to have them die from measles.”

1 p.m.: I participated in a conference call to UNICEF headquarters in New York to follow up on updating an annual plan to fund social mobilization and communications activities for UNICEF, critical efforts that support and maintain country-level polio vaccination efforts. The major focus was on a three-way project to develop and broadcast a series of Pashtun and Urdu language radio broadcasts to support polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan. Call topics also included plans to broadcast community roundtable discussions on the importance of polio vaccination and provide information on polio to local newspaper and broadcast journalists.

2:30 p.m.: I met with a Liberia-bound epidemiologist to continue planning for the possible measles vaccination program that had been discussed earlier in the day. I had been in Liberia in November working on communications and social mobilization programming for Ebola control with UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, WHO, and other global partners, including the Carter Center. The work with the Carter Center focused on developing ongoing relationships with tribal chiefs for the purpose of providing training about Ebola, including how to identify Ebola cases in their villages, whom to contact for help, and how to help keep the disease from spreading. This same model is being considered for training Liberian chiefs to help support the measles vaccination effort.

4:30 p.m.: Through the CDC clearance process, work continued on answering questions submitted by reviewers about the responses to Science magazine.

6 p.m.: Received final clearance and sent Science magazine answers to its questions.

Follow up on the Science magazine article.

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