Originally published July 29, 2013
Learning from others in the field of public health emergency preparedness and response is often an effective method for improvement. Preparedness professionals at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) had the opportunity for a bit of international education earlier this month when a delegation of 22 health preparedness and response professionals from China made a visit to the DPH Emergency Operation Center (EOC) in Atlanta.
The group was led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through a program sponsored by the World Bank.
"China's work in this area is still very new, and they are growing their staff steadily at national, provincial and local levels," said Jennifer Brooks, emergency management capacity coordinator for CDC.
Brooks said while the Chinese are making progress in disaster preparedness and response, they are nowhere near the complexity and staffing levels of the U.S. system.
Charlisa Ussery, DPH planning and exercise manager, and Charles Braxton, DPH exercise coordinator, led the group in an interactive two-hour walk-through of the DPH EOC, using a translator to help field questions and answers.
The group will spend two weeks at the CDC in Atlanta, then attend one week of lectures and site visits at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. Brooks said the group's visit to DPH was part of a comprehensive look at the U.S. system of emergency preparedness.
"The intent is to expose them to the variety of areas we cover under the U.S. system to spark thinking and provide take-aways for consideration as they continue their work in China," she said.
In addition to the firsthand learning that occurred during the visit, there are other potential benefits created in this environment.
"The ongoing relationships, collaboration and information exchange built by these activities strengthen global health security for all nations involved," said Brooks. "Joint collaboration in H7N9 and MERS-CoV [Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus] response by the U.S. and China are two recent examples resulting from continued bilateral exchange."
Braxton said he found the visit to be a learning experience, even while he was presenting information to the delegation.
"It was great to see the similarities and differences and find that we can all learn from each other," Braxton said. "We were educating them on aspects of our operation, but we learned from them as well by having an emergency preparedness conversation."
This was not the first international visit hosted at the DPH EOC, and delegates from other countries have tentative plans to visit in the near future. Brooks said everyone involved in the recent event benefitted from the experience.
"Despite cultural differences and differing approaches to framing and addressing public health problems, we are still more alike than different," she said. "China is now where CDC was just under 10 years ago in terms of building public health preparedness and response programmatically. The successes they achieve in the coming years will greatly contribute to the current global efforts to secure health for all nations."