A Griffith University infection control expert continues to assist in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) fight against COVID-19 even after returning from a month overseas consulting on the pandemic.
School of Nursing and Midwifery senior lecturer Dr Peta-Anne Zimmerman spent four weeks in The Philippines, contracted through her role as a senior trainer for the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.
“They call on partners from all over the world to respond to outbreak situations… and then they deploy us to wherever we need to go,” Dr Zimmerman said.
“I was assisting on guiding the infection prevention and control response for the entire region.”
That region – the western Pacific – encompasses more than 30 member states from China, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand to South-East Asia, Nauru and the Pacific Island countries.
“It’s massive with a lot of people and it is really diverse,” she said.
“You’ve got really high-income countries, and you’ve got really low-income countries.”
Dr Zimmerman said that was particularly evident in exercises run in Laos and Brunei — countries on opposite ends of the economic spectrum.
“We went to Brunei, which is actually very high-income, very similar to Australian healthcare systems,” she said.
“Then we went to Laos, which was the complete opposite situation, where it is not as highly resourced as other nations.”
One of the main challenges Dr Zimmerman and her team faced was adapting to the varying conditions.
“The principles of infection control are always the same, it’s just how you adapt them to your environment,” she said.
“You might do things a little differently as you would normally in, for example, Gold Coast University Hospital, because you may not have the equipment, or the education may not be as high for the healthcare workers as well.”
She continues to work from her Gold Coast home, recording webinars, providing visual aids and troubleshooting from afar.
The trip was the fourth deployment for Dr Zimmerman, with the first in 2003 during SARS.
She said all infectious outbreaks have similarities.
“Working on COVID-19 is definitely not a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me,” she said.
“This scale is potentially once in a lifetime, but I’ve done other outbreaks (and) while I think in some ways we are slowly learning from the outbreaks that have preceded this, but there were so many things we had the opportunity to learn from SARS and some things never changed.”
The advisor for Griffith’s Graduate Infection Prevention and Control Program said more regulations should have been put in place from previous lessons about the relationship between animal and human health, as well as more open reporting.
She said the stints away working for WHO could be hard on her children, but she has explained her absence in a way they can relate to.
“I tell them I go on these trips to protect healthcare workers so they can get home safe to their families, just like I’m getting home to them.”
Dr Zimmerman urged Australians prepare themselves to be in a COVID-19 world for the long haul, continuing good hygiene practices — like washing hands — and not becoming relaxed when it comes to social distancing.