Boots on the Ground
When Kamelya Hinson traveled to American Samoa to help the US territory fight the Zika outbreak, she did not realize how difficult it would be to spend Mother’s Day away from her daughters.
At the time, communication expertise was much needed in American Samoa, and Hinson was happy to help – even though it meant making tough decisions at home. For Hinson, it was difficult to say goodbye to her two daughters, and it was especially difficult to leave her 13-year-old daughter, who has autism. Hinson had to quickly coordinate care for her daughter before her 40-day deployment. Hinson’s mother came from Florida to stay at their home with her granddaughter, so she could maintain her daily routine as smoothly as possible.
Hinson’s oldest daughter is a recent college graduate who was starting her first corporate job when Hinson deployed. Hinson had very little time to counsel her daughter about the job, something that she ordinarily would have done. It was a learning experience for mother and daughter.
When Hinson’s 13-year-old daughter located American Samoa on the globe and realized how far away her mother would be, it was an anxious moment for both mother and daughter. The Zika response is nonstop, and Hinson would try to find just a few free minutes in the afternoons to call her daughter before bedtime in Atlanta. Her daughter’s first year at a new school was coming to an end, and Hinson had to miss her daughter’s end-of-school events.
“It was tough to miss seeing her receive top awards at school,” Hinson said.
Still, Hinson has worked at CDC for the past 7 years, and she knew that the Zika response in American Samoa was expanding and needed her skills. As Zika spread on the island, it was crucial that messages got out to communities about Zika and how people could protect themselves from mosquito bites and sexual transmission of the virus. As a health communication specialist working in digital media, Hinson immediately thought of an outlet that had not yet been utilized for the Zika response in American Samoa: Facebook.
The challenge was finding ways to get Zika messages out to people through social media. Hinson researched organizations in American Samoa that were prominent on Facebook and Instagram, and she discovered that a few groups, such as the National Park of American Samoa and the Women Infants and Children (WIC) office, had active Facebook accounts and several followers. Hinson spent many days driving around the entire island, visiting those organizations, and asking them to share Zika messages on their social media pages. Before long, organizations were onboard.
Getting the message out became even more critical when Hinson learned that many pregnant women were not seeking prenatal care, because they assumed they had to pay for it. Hinson and her team immediately began informing women that they could get free prenatal care and Zika testing at health clinics on the island. In addition to social media, they visited several communities and handed out fliers to women. Soon, both CDC and the local health department began fielding many calls about getting free prenatal care.
It was a challenge being the only health communicator in American Samoa for 3 weeks before she was joined by a colleague, but the experience is a highlight of Hinson’s career.
“In the end, I learned the depths of my own endurance and professional strengths,” she said. “I carry a great deal of pride in having served my country abroad and experienced first-hand the fruit of CDC’s labor, from headquarters to the boots-on-the-ground responders.”
Now that Hinson is back, she continues her work to get health messages out through digital media, and she is happy to get back to her most important role: being a mother.
“Even though I prepared my daughter for the temporary change in routine, it was more challenging than either of us expected,” she said.