Our alumnus of the week is Dr. Portia Manangazira, Director of Epidemiology & Disease Control at the Ministry of Health and Child Care. Dr. Manangazira traveled to the United States in August of 2009 as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness. The exchange visit took her to Washington DC, Baltimore-Maryland, Colorado, San Diego, Atlanta-Georgia.
Among other sites, she spent time at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) control room at the organization’s headquarters in Atlanta as well as toured the laboratory that ran the initial H1N1 diagnostics in San Diego.
“It was a real mix of very inspiring, highly educative institutions,” she says. “The visit taught me a lot by observing and listening to various Americans, and really built me up, spurred my journey to self-discovery and self-actualization, which I am nearing 5 years on,” says Mananganzira.
She says the visit taught her that hard work pays, team work is rewarding, and that communities have inherent power which should be harnessed before adding any external or exogenous assistance in order realize mitigation of the impacts of natural and man-made disasters and emergencies through recognizing and building their resilience.
“Planning for emergencies to the level that I observed in the states that I visited will definitely minimize adverse effects, while uniting the communities,” she says. “I learnt more about democracy in action and was very humbled by the work of Martin Luther King Jr, and how his work was recognized in the society and time he lived.” She also says she learnt that simple is better and more effective, “but still translates into power,” she says citing the constitution of the United States of America and White House architecture as prime examples.
During her visit to the U.S. Dr Manangazira shared the best practices in Zimbabwe’s health system including the local mobilization of resources to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS as well as continued partnerships with the international community including the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief as well as the continued resilience of Zimbabwe’s health delivery system in the face of challenges. In addition to PEPFAR programs, the Zimbabwe’s health ministry partners the World Health Organization and CDC to integrate disease surveillance and response as well as produce weekly surveillance bulletins which were critical during the cholera outbreak prior to her visit.
Since her visit to the U.S. she says she has registered a number of successes in planning and executing public health programs, communicating these to the public, law makers and senior health management. “I have also planned and fundraised for effective interventions despite very limited local spending on health, using the learning and confidence gained. In 2009 we successfully conducted H1N1 vaccination, and in 2009/10 successfully abated country wide measles outbreaks by vaccinating 98% of children aged 6 months to 15 years – surpassing the WHO target of 95% coverage for campaigns.”