The Story of CDC
- First established in 1946 under the name Communicable Disease Center by the Public Health Service, USA.
- Was opened in Atlanta because of its limitation to communicable disease then and concentration of malaria in the South.
- Now expanded to include all infectious diseases, occupational health, toxic chemicals, injury, chronic diseases, health statistics, and birth defects.
- Reports to the Department of Health and Human Services and works in collaboration with other public health partners.
- Though the initials of name CDC has remained constant over time, the meaning has changed over time to expand into:
- Communicable Disease Center
- Center for Disease Control
- Centers for Disease Control
- And today- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CDC today leads the Global fight against known, new and emerging diseases around the globe with expanding preventive efforts to reduce the global burden of preventable and chronic diseases. As frequently as the name has changed, CDC for sure has come a long way but the appeal has remained. Whenever the issue of health and safety comes up, CDC has been a center for hope, a beam of trust, architect of research break-through’s, novel treatment modalities for everyone around the globe and a dream job for public health scholars, budding new comers.
Through the relentless effort of the organizers for our Fulbright seminar at the Georgia State University, got us through for a tour inside one of the heavily guarded office buildings I have ever been too. The level of work sophistication, subtleness of their work, with numerous bio-safety level 4 (BSL4) labs and volume of pathogenic specimens dealt every day, I firmly believe those security requirements was a just.
David J. Sencer CDC Museum
Our tour inside the center started with the CDC museum. After a round of security clearance we were finally greeted at the main lobby by the staffs of the museum which opened into a simulation third generation auditorium. The auditorium had large billboard sized televisions hanging on from the ceiling with graphic retina display quality screens with on and off health messages. If it is what I understood, the people showing up on those televisions appeared to be communicating with you personally. At least for me they appeared to have their gaze fixed at you, maintained full eye contact throughout the time. For me it was surprising at first, I was repetitively with the corner of my eye while I tried to appear attentive to the orientation and then stopped when it started to go creepy!
People on the screens, stare at you and try to talk to you on washing hands!
First to welcome us was the recently setup temporary Ebola gallery. As a budding public health scholar, which I like to refer myself, was the highlight of the whole tour.
Back in the year 2014, the Ebola outbreak in Western African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone took the world by a major surprise. Speculated to be transmitted by consumption of infected bat, until then Ebola was a disease only known for its academic interest. However, easy transmission, rapid disease progression, potential fatal outcome, and remoteness of the outbreak setting made it an overnight global threat.
Citizen- Driven Response
“The citizens of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone- with so much to gain and so much to lose- were the true first responders to the epidemic. Time and time again, they took responsibility for their destinies.”
The propensity of EBOLA to grow into a global pandemic became very clear in a matter of days which demanded vigorous measures not only in terms of clinical clear but public health efforts, which could not have been anywhere near successful without community participation.
From Cellphones to Megaphones to Motorcycles: Tools to Engage Citizens
Often at times of emergency, communication is the first line of defense. Communities need to understand the situation, and communication is the only means of bridging the gap between science and public.
Social mobilizers used every tool at their disposal in spreading awareness about Ebola. The communication toolbox compromised of Short Message Service (SMS), all forms of written and audio/visual media, traditional use of mikes and megaphones at the town centers, even town criers, arts and drawings on walls at public places, spreading message through school children.
If not parallel, the unprecedented use of awareness spread campaigns and social mobilization was the key for EBOLA control. Community engagement was recognized early as the detrimental tool and hence all NGO staffs, community members, volunteers, students were encouraging members of the community for their active participation. Their engagements resulted in developing strategic dialogues, large coordinated campaigns and above all the much-needed community ownership and participation.
- A novel form of text-based communication platform that allowed individual subscribers to ask questions, get real time answers and share information.
- Developed and funded by UNICEF and used in Liberia.
Social Mobilization Action Consortium (SMAC)
- Implemented in Sierra Leone to intensify village-level effort by sending out community mobilizers in villages with critical life-saving and behavioral change messages.
- A joint action committee between GOAL, Focus 1000, BBC Media Action, Restless Development and CDC serving as a technical consultant.
- More than 2000 community members mobilized and 70 % of Sierra-Leone community reached.
Sacrifices in the line of duty
Health care workers directly involved in patient handling and care are always susceptible to the infectious diseases. Before the strict protection measures were brought into practice, number of health care workers were already infected with the disease. Out of documented total of 881 doctors, nurses and midwives infected 513 had to lose their lives to EBOLA.
Public Health system of these nations already weakened by years of war, political unrest and poverty suffered the greatest burnt of this outbreak. Liberia and Sierra Leone respectively, lost 8 and 7 percent of their total health care workers, including doctors and nurses to EBOLA. 23% of decrease in health care service in Sierra Leone is attributed to this disease.
A Global Health marvel
The gallery also housed display of boots, gears, masks, safety robes including the white boards used for tracking cases, keeping count of dead and contact tracing. Actual hand drawn diagrams and calculations on back of folders used for record keeping display the skill set demanded by epidemics of this magnitude.
The EBOLA display to me was a real-life demonstration of how epidemiological tools when meticulously formatted can prevent an inevitable catastrophe. It left me with the deeper understanding of my chosen filed of interest, and above all an honor to the real soldiers, citizens of West Africa- with so much to gain and so much to lose- the true first responders!