COVID-19 Alumni Stories: Amira Shaheen

Amira Shaheen (Epidemiology and Population Health, PhD 2009) works as an Assistant Professor in Epidemiology at An-Najah National University, Palestine. Here, she discusses her role within the National Epidemiological Committee helping to decide preventative measures in Palestine. She also describes Palestine’s response to the pandemic.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your work?

Palestine started the lockdown on 6 March 2020. Since then all teaching institutions were closed. The same with regards to my research, I am the principle investigator (PI) of the research that is investigating the healthcare system response to gender-based violence. We are working with the Ministry of Health (MoH) for this research, however amid COVID-19 the focus of the MoH was on this pandemic, hence all other research and services were stopped.

How have you been responding to the outbreak?

I am teaching almost 200 undergraduate health science students the course of Epidemiology and Public Health. Amid COVID-19 my university turned to online teaching, this was our first experience with this type of teaching. There were struggles, yet we managed to finish the semester and learned a lot from this experience.

We conduct collaborative research with a large group of scientists. We have managed to have online meetings and as a PI I supervised our research assistants doing the analysis of the first phase data online. At the same time I wrote a paper summarising Palestinian perception to COVID-19 pandemic.

I was invited, by the MoH, to be a member in the National Epidemiology Committee that is studying the available evidence and advising the government on the further preventive measures. I have also been invited by the Palestine Institute for the National Security Research to present on the role of epidemiology in controlling the outbreak.

Furthermore, I am coordinating research that aims at investigating the impact of COVID-19 at family and community level. This is an online survey, results of which will be published in a peer-reviewed journal as well as communicated with the policy makers to take the suitable precautions in case of a second wave.

How has your country’s response to the outbreak affected your work?

Palestine announced an emergency situation that started with complete lockdown of the first city where cases of COVID-19 were identified, Bethlehem City. Boarders were closed, mainly that with Jordan. Those who were trapped in neighbouring countries were allowed in, with pre-arrangement with these countries and our government, COVID-19 tests were carried out on all. Those who were tested negative were asked to isolate themselves for 14 days. A National Epidemiology Committee was also composed. Because of the culture, where social contact is intense in Palestine, those who were identified as COVID-19 cases, mostly mild symptoms, were taken by the MoH to special isolation places that were allocated by the government. They were isolated for 14 days, some 21 days. Contacts with negative results were asked to be isolated for 14 days as well. The strategy was to identify cases, trace contact, and isolate.

How has LSHTM’s training helped you during this outbreak?

The fact that I had graduated as an epidemiologist from LSHTM raised my chance to be recruited as a member in the National Epidemiological Committee, which in turn helped me to use the skills that I learned in LSHTM to decide, with other members, what preventative measures could be used to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian population.

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