60 seconds with Liliana Cândida Dengo-Baloi

October is Black History Month in the UK, an annual observance that celebrates and reflects on Black history, arts and culture, as well as recognising the achievements and roles of Black people in shaping history. LSHTM is committed to fostering a supportive, enabling and inclusive environment, where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, and where there is equality of opportunity for all regardless of characteristics or background.

Liliana Cândida Dengo-Baloi (MSc Control of Infectious Diseases, 2019) is the Head of the Central Office for Surveillance and Outbreak Investigation for the National Institute of Health in Mozambique. She recently shared her incredible COVID-19 story with us, describing how Mozambique has been dealing with the pandemic and her role in the surveillance of active cases. To celebrate Black History Month, we asked her about her role and some quick fire questions!

What is your role and what does it involve?

Soon after completing my degree, I was appointed to the Head of Central Office for Surveillance and Outbreak Investigation in the National Institute of Health of my country. I was previously working there as Laboratory Coordinator for the National Surveillance of Cholera. Our central office is mainly involved with laboratory-based surveillance systems such as meningitis, antimicrobial resistance, measles, HIV antiretroviral resistance and acute respiratory diseases, most recently focused on COVID-19. Our focus is on generating data for action. We intend to use our data for technical advice within the Ministry of Health and for it to be impactful and crucial in decision-making nationwide.

What is a typical day for you?

I go to work around 7:30 am and I usually have one or two meetings a day. As a central office, we are supposed to give a strategic view on how different surveillance systems within our institute should work and how to target or shape their results so they can be impactful and aligned with the views and mission of our institute. I also have one meeting a day with one of the units within my partition to check the deliverables, milestones and targets and to help them overcome any challenges or blockages that they might have, that would be in my power to help. Sometimes I have high-level meetings with my superiors or within the Ministry of Health where we are usually called to give our technical expertise or advice for public health emergencies.

Whenever possible, I spare some time to go through some scientific articles and newsfeeds, sometimes from the LSHTM bulletin, to see how other surveillance systems are working and check on new ideas about how to use our results to benefit public health in our country.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on?

Our main project would be COVID-19 active surveillance. We are present in all 11 provinces of our country with at least five healthcare facilities for each province collecting an average of 400 samples per day.

The biggest challenge of this surveillance system was that we didn’t have the time to prepare the tools and standard procedures, we had to be reactive and work with what we had in hand. We had to count on the provinces and healthcare facilities individual willingness to make it work as we were not there physically to train and provide them with all the tools that they needed to start a well implemented system. We had to wait until all flight restrictions were lifted to go to each province and start with on-site training and verifying the process of filling the forms, collecting and shipping of samples, biosafety measures, etc.

One of the biggest lessons of this newly implemented system is that it is nationwide and present in every province, meaning present in every different setting we have in this country. We had to deal with provinces, big companies, camping sites, imported cases, provinces with the biggest borders of the country receiving thousands of mineworkers from neighbouring countries with thousands of cases when we only had hundreds, provinces with long distance truck drivers coming from affected neighbouring countries, provinces with war zones and displaced population, the shift from cluster to community transmission and the panic from healthcare workers when they had their first case and when cases started rising amongst their co-workers.

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Operational, strategic, impactful.

What is your favourite thing about working there?

Being able to shape systems to create an impact on public health.

What is your proudest career achievement?

I’ve only been in this role for less than a year now but being here during the COVID-19 pandemic has surely marked my career. Being able to be part of all the effort that has been done in terms of surveillance to make sure people were well informed and up-to-date, and working around the clock to have all the data we needed to make decisions on strategic and timely interventions.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Recognition that has been denied for so long that are now for the younger generations to see and be proud of.

What three words would you use to describe Black History Month?

Pride, recognition, excellence.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Nelson Mandela.

Who is someone making Black History today?

Oprah Winfrey.

“When I’m not working I am…”

Meditating, singing and laughing.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Biologist.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Kind, peaceful, happy.

What is your favourite book?

Aleph by Paulo Coelho.

What is your most treasured possession?

My peace.

What is your favourite place?

The beach.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I am not conventional and I do not bow to society’s rules.

If you are an alumnus and would like to be highlighted in Black History Month, please email alumni@lshtm.ac.uk.

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