COVID-19 Response in Saudi Arabia

Joanna Gaines (left) and FETP resident Fatimah Alghawi (right) at a MERS investigation in Saudi Arabia.

Joanna Gaines (left) and FETP resident Fatimah Alghawi (right) at a MERS investigation in Saudi Arabia.

As the CDC Country Director and Resident Advisor for the Saudi Arabia Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP), Joanna Gaines has worn many hats during the ongoing COVID-19 response. From conducting contract tracing in Qatif (an Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia) to leading site assessments in hospitals and quarantine facilities, and supervising FETP residents who assist with contract tracing efforts, Joanna has been at the heart of the response. During the early stages of the COVID-19 response in Saudi Arabia when access to accurate and timely information was critical, Joanna provided input on health messages to ensure that they followed plain language principles; they were sent by text message to every mobile phone, over 25 million, in Saudi Arabia. On the domestic side, Joanna assisted the U.S. State Department in developing emergency workforce protection plans so that the United States could maintain operations while navigating changes in local policies regarding curfews and businesses openings.

Saudi Arabia FETP residents are on the frontlines serving on rapid response teams and conducting contract tracing. While working on the response, logistics has been one of the biggest challenges Joanna experienced as quarantine and curfew policies make movement throughout Saudi Arabia extremely difficult. Joanna’s expertise in outbreak response planning and implementation has been useful in reaching communities at risk for COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia and assisting the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense in developing workforce operation plans to maintain safe business operations.

This is why I joined CDC – this is what we do. I think FETP is one of the best programs CDC has overseas because we are training host nation’s disease detectives. The fact that Saudi Arabia has found my expertise useful and has openly expressed their appreciation for CDC and the work that we do, is extremely rewarding.

– Joanna Gaines