31A912B6 FA81 42A6 B20C F389A0A64F66APPRISE researcher goes global with outbreak preparedness at the World Health Organization

APPRISE PhD scholar Adrian Marcato’s schedule at WHO HQ had it all – live updates of current outbreaks, strategic preparedness meetings and protocols to kick-start early studies in future flu pandemics…and then there was the food.

My internship at the World Health Organization (WHO) Headquarters in Geneva was truly a period of great learning and personal development. The internship spanned 16 weeks under the supervision of Dr Isabel Bergeri of the Global Influenza Program (GIP) within the Infectious Hazard Management Department.

The main objective was to provide support for the development of Pandemic Special Studies (PSS) protocols. These are crucial for early responses to influenza pandemics and included protocols for:

  • rapid assessment of the First Few Hundred/X cases of pandemic influenza and their close contacts
  • a household transmission study for pandemic influenza cases and their household contacts
  • a closed setting transmission study for pandemic influenza cases and their close contacts.

The overall aim of PSS protocols is to gain an early understanding of some of the key clinical, epidemiological and virological characteristics of the first cases of pandemic influenza, to help guide public health response. Helping to prepare these protocols greatly expanded my technical knowledge. The protocols I contributed to have now been adapted for COVID-19 early investigations and are available at:
https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/early-investigations

During my trip, I gained invaluable insights into the daily functions of the GIP as well as WHO as a whole. Attending meetings was a great window into global outbreak preparedness and I was able to observe meetings on Influenza Preparedness and Response between the teams at headquarters and the regional offices, a live update on the Ebola crisis in the Strategic Health Operations Centre and many more.
I also joined the WHO HQ Intern Board as the communications coordinator, where I was responsible for running social media pages and assisting with day-to-day communications to Intern Board members. In my position on the intern board, we were involved with conversations with Human Resources and the Director-General about the introduction of stipends in 2020 and discussing the implications of this on intern welfare.

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The flu protocols Adrian developed have been rapidly modified for case follow up of COVID-19 household contacts to increase our understanding of the current pandemic.