Duty to help inspires Ghana native and CDC emergency responder
When CDC asks staff to respond to public health emergencies overseas, it turns to highly trained individuals who are ready to deploy on short notice to an emergency mission. Epidemiologist Valerie Bampoe from the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases (DFWED) often gets the call.
Since joining CDC in October 2012, Valerie has deployed five times to provide support during disaster recovery efforts or public health emergencies. Her skills in data collection, analysis, and emergency preparedness were critical during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. She has also provided support to field staff from the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Atlanta. A native of Ghana, she volunteered to help during the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa: “I felt a deep responsibility to volunteer to help end Ebola’s further spread through West Africa and beyond.”
She felt a similar sense of duty in 2017 after Sierra Leone’s disastrous mudslide and flooding, which killed hundreds of people in the capital city of Freetown and left thousands homeless. Because she worked well with the CDC country office in Sierra Leone during the Ebola response, they asked her to return and assist with active surveillance of the shelters and healthcare facilities for diarrheal diseases and other conditions, such as cholera. “I had fallen in love with Sierra Leone from my earlier work and I knew most of the surveillance officers, the suburbs, and the healthcare facilities I was assigned to help after the mudslide,” Valerie explained.
For the last two years, she has been supporting hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This year, she went to Rwanda and Uganda to work on their outbreak response capacity to help prevent future Ebola outbreaks. This work involves training local public health workers to do epidemiologic surveillance. “Building trust is often the most challenging part of response work because it has to be established quickly,” Valerie notes. “It’s also difficult for the host countries because they get used to volunteers who work for 30 to 90 days, and then a new group arrives.”
Valerie is passionate about her work, even though it means leaving behind loved ones, friends, commitments, and the comforts of home. “I love doing shoe-leather epidemiology,” she said. Add to all that the pressure of living up to high expectations as a representative of CDC.
“CDC is a respected agency around the world. We have a reputation of being a science-based organization, which brings with it a high level of respect,” she said.
Valerie encourages colleagues to get involved in deployments when they have the opportunity for two reasons: “I feel honored when I can confidently say that I made a difference. Also, being in the field opens the eyes to the bigger picture in ways a desk job will never be able to do.”