Supporting the Ministry of Health
Dr. Ben Dahl, Team Lead for Vaccine Preventable Disease Surveillance in the Global Immunization Division, just returned from his third deployment to fight Ebola in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ben served as an advisor to the Minister of Health, helping to guide a data driven response. Ben worked with all areas of response, including surveillance, infection prevention and control, vaccination, border health, health communication, and laboratory testing. In addition to his role as advisor, Ben also served as CDC’s response lead in DRC and worked to address the needs of CDC staff in country. Ben also previously deployed for the DRC Equateur outbreak earlier in 2018 and for the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak.
When asked about the biggest challenge he faced during his work on the current response in DRC, Ben said that it was CDC’s inability to be in the field because of security concerns. “In Guinea and in DRC’s Equateur province, we were able to work where the outbreak was happening, and that allowed us to address issues in real time and take corrective actions. In this outbreak, we have primarily been working from Kinshasa at the strategic level. There do seem to be some changes being made, and we now have staff assisting in Goma, but we are not yet in the field where the outbreak is.”
However, Ben and other CDC staff have adapted to the unique security challenges, taking on a more strategic and advisory role in the outbreak response. Coordinating with governmental and other partners has been an important component of Ben’s work in DRC. Along with other United States government agencies, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders, Ben has worked extensively with the DRC government to address the Ebola outbreak. “I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work so closely with the Ministry of Health during this outbreak,” said Ben. “They view CDC as being an impartial agency that can do complex analyses that allow for data-driven decisions.”
As an expert in Global Health Security, Ben has often worked with multiple partners in countries around the globe. He has worked on collaborative teams in Albania, Latvia, Madagascar, and Morocco to evaluate local capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to public health risks, which in turn has helped these countries identify how they can improve and enhance their preparedness and response capacities. During Ben’s deployment for the West Africa Ebola outbreak, he was CDC Guinea Country team lead and a CDC representative to the Disaster Assistance Response Team. In this role he managed a team of up to 60 CDC response personnel and served as a liaison to response leadership including the CDC director, incident management, US ambassadors, visiting United States government leadership, and the President of Guinea. His extensive experience in the West Africa outbreak has helped him provide DRC officials with lessons learned that can guide the next steps in the current outbreak response.
Ben emphasizes, though, that his efforts fighting Ebola have always been collaborative. “It’s not about the individual person. We stay somewhat anonymous, and we do everything we can to support the Ministry and the people most affected by helping to contain the outbreak, as quickly as possible”
If you want to read more responder stories, visit the Ebola Outbreak Responder Stories webpage.