In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many alumni of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) are using their exchange experiences, connections, and expertise to combat the virus around the world in their local communities and on the frontlines while serving in medical facilities.
Sayed Ashraf Sadat and Naureel Abbas are two former IVLP participants working to make their communities safer. A civil society leader and social activist, Sadat participated in the “Transparency and Anti-Corruption” IVLP in 2019 and is fighting against the outbreak in Herat province in Afghanistan, which has been a hot spot of the disease in the nation. Sadat implemented the lessons learned from his IVLP experience to effectively lead his team in areas of advocacy, community engagement, and philanthropy. In the past month, he mobilized teams of volunteers to sanitize public gathering places and distribute food rations and disinfectant products to vulnerable groups during the country’s shelter in place order.
Sayed Ashraf Sadat, an @StateIVLP alumnus in 2019, and his volunteer team are helping fellow #Afghans fight #COVID19 in #Herat. They are sanitizing public places and assisting with food rations as the lockdown closed many businesses and put workers out of jobs. #HometownHeroes pic.twitter.com/O58WtZGYoe
— U.S. Embassy Kabul (@USEmbassyKabul) April 3, 2020
Further east in Pakistan, Naureel Abbas, an advocate for disability rights, is helping people with disabilities using lessons learned from his IVLP on “Strengthening Country Readiness for Health-Related Emergencies.” While ensuring safety measures, Abbas is distributing rations and other essential items to community members in need, which includes individuals who are having difficulties making ends meet.
Naureel Abbas, an advocate for disability rights and a U.S. Department of State program alumnus, is making us proud by helping the physically impaired people during the current global health crisis. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/dZXLVZoYtf
— U.S. Consulate General Lahore (@USCGLahore) April 1, 2020
In Africa, many IVLP alumni who are doctors, areusing what they learned to better understand COVID-19 on the frontlines. When 2015 alumnus Dr. Mamy Jean de Dieu Randria, Infectious Disease Doctor and Director of the Joseph Raseta Befelatanana Hospital, was asked how his exchange has impacted his work in Madagascar, he said,
“My IVLP experience in the U.S. helped strengthen my capacity in epidemic/pandemic preparedness which is very crucial to my current work in facing COVID-19. Every day, I am applying my expertise in the fight against the spread of this virus, and I am supporting collective efforts to save lives in my country.”
Izy no Profesora RANDRIA Mamy Jean de Dieu isan’ireo mpitsabo miatrika voalohany ny ady amin'ny COVID-19, ary…
Similarly, Dr. Herilinda Temba from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) left the continent with a better understanding of how the U.S. CDC in Atlanta, Georgia monitors outbreaks. While some doctors learned how to prepare for a pandemic, Dr. Sylla Aboubakar, president of a non-governmental organization called AGIS, learned how to increase public awareness of COVID-19. The knowledge gained during his IVLP gave him new skills that allowed him to develop action strategies in the form of videos and articles to relay COVID-19 public safety measures in Cote D’Ivoire.
At the time of a global crisis like #COVID19, factual and timely information are vital to save lives. On this week’s RealTalk USA episode, we spoke with Dr. Jay Varma, Senior Advisor at the Africa CDC and our International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumna, Dr. Herilinda Temba, also from Africa CDC, to provide us accurate information about how COVID-19 is affecting Africa, how Africans can protect themselves from this pandemic, and what the United States is doing on the continent to combat the virus. As confirmed cases of COVID-19 increase in Africa, Dr. Jay Varma noted, “One of the reasons we didn’t detect COVID-19 cases in Africa earlier is because the health systems face a number of challenges. That is the reason why the U.S. and other partners have provided and continue to provide assistance so that we can strengthen Africa's ability to detect this disease.”
Posted by U.S. Mission to the African Union on Thursday, March 26, 2020
In Europe, alumni in two countries are innovating and creating new solutions to combat COVD-19. An IVLP with Spain’s premier medical research institution, the Health Institute Carlos III, facilitated contacts that have proven indispensable to the Spanish COVID-19 response. Spanish and American scientists are currently working together to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, and the IVLP-related partnerships will provide benefits for years to come. Another IVLP with Icelandic medical experts has also assisted in the creation of methods to prevent future cases. For instance, the National Hospital of Iceland is able to remotely diagnose COVID-19. According to Chief Medical Officer Olafur Baldursson of the National Hospital from Iceland, this is in part due to the participation of doctors and officials from various organizations in the “Digital Health Solutions” IVLP.
These are just a few of many examples of IVLP alumni using connections and information from their IVLP experience to make a difference during the pandemic. To see more stories like these, visit IVLP’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About the Author: Ingrid Liu is an Intern in the Office of International Visitors in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.