Meet LSHTM alumna Giovanna Jaramillo Gutierrez, Co-Founder and Data Scientist at Milan and Associates SPRL in Barcelona. Also, currently working as a Senior Epidemiologist at the World Health Organization (WHO) Headquarters in Geneva. Giovanna completed a series of short courses and an MSc in Epidemiology at LSHTM in 2018 and speaks about her time in London with a lot of passion, especially about the long-lasting personal and professional bonds she established with other alumni.
Giovanna, how has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your work?
I was working as a consultant data scientist in Barcelona. My work involves supporting tech companies and public entities to uncover unwanted bias in machine learning algorithms-based products that may exacerbate historical inequalities and ultimately discriminate citizens based on protected attributes such as gender, age etc.
Once COVID-19 was declared a public health event of international concern, I decided to pause that project and I was subsequently deployed to the COVID-19 pandemic response team at WHO headquarters.
How have you been responding to the outbreak?
I work with the WHO flu team in adapting long standing influenza tools for the COVID-19 pandemic surveillance and to monitor the severity of the pandemic on health systems. In the past, I have supported the deployment of the digital tool for contact tracing called Go.Data in the context of Ebola outbreaks in Guinea and DRC, which are now being used for COVID-19 in the field.
How has the national response to the outbreak affected your work?
Since the lockdown in Geneva, it has been interesting to interact with my colleagues only through digital tools and get everyone comfortable with the use of various platforms. I think we need to embrace the use of digital tools more in public health. I believe this is a positive effect of the pandemic. Another side effect of the lockdown is the incredible wave of empathy and altruism expressed by citizens and how they organise each other to support the most vulnerable.
How has LSHTM’s training helped you during this outbreak?
LSHTM’s training has had a profound impact on my journey as an epidemiologist and as a scientist. Courses like extended epidemiology, advanced statistics for epidemiology and the infectious disease mathematical modelling course, are very relevant to my current work. We have to rapidly make sense and be critical of numerous COVID-19 studies to be able to translate the information quickly into policies that can help countries better prepare and allocate their resources to the pandemic response.
I have such fond memories of my time at LSHTM and still treasure the friendships I built there with other students. The quality of teaching and expertise at the School is unrivalled, but also the opportunities to learn from your cohort, many of whom are experienced in different fields already, is invaluable and it’s also a lot of fun.
Do you think public health/epidemiology and related fields will be seen as more important in future due to this outbreak?
Yes, I would hope so. I think that the world needs a reset, and understand that the way we lived before the COVID-19 pandemic is not sustainable. Global health has been largely underfunded historically. This is a major barrier to increasing public health national capacity, especially in middle and low income countries. I think with more investment and expertise there is a lot of potential to learn from other industries in making data and technologies work for better health systems.
I am hopeful, that this humbling experience, will help us to have more empathy for one another and change our lifestyles to be more sustainable. We need as a society to invest in systems that are more equitable for all. The question remains how to integrate outbreak capacity building into universal health coverage.
How has the field you work in changed through the pandemic?
There are so many tech companies who are very eager to work on a solution to the current outbreak, which I think means there is a lot of potential. I do think that such endeavours need to be well coordinated, ideally as part of the whole public health system.
Do you feel a sense of pride being able to support the response with your work and expertise?
Yes, absolutely, I feel very privileged as a field epidemiologist/public health microbiologist to be able to be a resource in outbreak response and work along our very dedicated health care workers, researchers, policy makers and affected populations.
How was the outbreak affected you on a personal level?
I have been teleworking for the past eight weeks due to the lockdown in Geneva. It has been a bit of an interesting challenge since I have my toddler with me all day. Definitely a learning experience to integrate my new little noisy office-mate into my working life. My colleagues can be at times quite entertained by her during our daily teleconferences.
Interviewer: Noreen Seyerl