CEPH members’ fight against COVID-19

Centre for Environment and Population Health Director Professor Cordia Chu

A group of researchers and alumni at Griffith‘s Centre for Environment and Population Health (CEPH) are working on ways to safeguard global health security amid the enormity and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The centre focuses on research, consultancy, training and policy development in population health around the globe, specialising in environmental change, disasters, chronic and infectious diseases and its membershave been helping fight COVID-19, especially within Australia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

CEPH Director Professor Cordia Chu said work being undertaken by CEPH during the COVID-19 crisis was essential.

“While all eyes are on the COVID-19 pandemic right now, it will not be the last pandemic to befall populations across the world,” Professor Chu said.

“The vital work of CEPH in nurturing public health leaders is as crucial as ever in helping to secure a sustainable future for all.”

At home, PhD candidates Noore Alam and Connie Gan have contributed to the fight in different ways.

Noore, an epidemiologist, has spent six weeks as part of Queensland Health’s COVID-19 Incident Management Team, helping devise a response to keep Queenslanders safe from the virus, while Connie was part of a collective that developed an acrylic glass window to help tackle the shortage of personal protective equipment in hospitals by allowing assessments through the window.

Offshore in Jiangsu, China, alumnus Changjun Bao has been recognised as a public health hero, after leading a provincial response that has so far resulted in zero deaths in a population of 58 million people.

Chanjung Bao on the cover of a Chinese magazine.

“Since 23 April, there have been no local cases, with only five cases coming in from overseas,” Professor Chu said.

Tie Song.

“Bao and his team have been credited with meticulous planning, using IT and other breakthrough technologies to monitor crowds, for contact tracing and early treatments.”

Also in China, this time in Guagdong Province, alumnus Tie Song is working as Deputy Director of the Guangdog Centre for Disease Control and has been made Commander-in-Chief of the province’s COVID-19 response.

“There have only been 1588 people confirmed cases and eight deaths out of a population of more than 114 million in the province,” Professor Chu said.

“Using best practice risk communication and planning, Song avoided the difficulties around mask-wearing provisions by ensuring that there was an adequate supply and that panic buying was prevented through the creation of an on-line registration for acquiring masks.”

In the Philippines, two CEPH alumni have been working directly on the country’s COVID-19 response.

Dr Maria Antonio with WHO Director General Dr Tedros Chebreyesus.

“Dr Maria Antonio, who is now Director IV of the Bureau of International Health Co-operation, has been crucial to passing laws that provide powers and funds for the government to deal with COVID-19,” Professor Chu said.

This included theBayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act 11469), which passed in Congress in March 2020. Meanwhile, Dr Ronald P Law has been acting as the Deputy of Response Operations involved in both policy and operational work on COVID-19.

While many CEPH alumni are involved in the pandemic response in Indonesia, two Indonesian expats based in Australia – CEPH PhD candidate Dr Dicky Budiman and Griffith global health lecturer Dr Febi Dwirahmadi – were helping keep their country informed and healthy from afar.

Dr Dicky Budiman speaking with Indonesian officials.

Dr Budiman’s advice has been sought by all levels of Indonesian government and he has supplied commentary to various media outlets, including Al Jazeera, CNN Indonesia and more, while Dr Dwirahmadi has also been invited on television and to present seminars on COVID-19.

In Vietnam, Dr Dang Quang Tan has acted as the lead on the Pandemic Control and Prevention Committee. Measures put in place by the Committee have resulted in zero confirmed COVID-19 related deaths across Vietnam at the time of publication.

Other CEPH alumni, including Dr Tao Liu, Dr Huanyu Wu , Dr Xiaohui Hou have been recruited to help international efforts to combat COVID-19 in Malaysia, Iran and Sudan.