One of the state’s most esteemed public health professionals, who is currently completing a PhD at Griffith University, has been appointed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) as Senior Consultant Epidemiologist to lead the contact tracing component of the global pandemic response.
Noore Alam will lead the WHO contact tracing team virtually for the next six months in a prestigious appointment. Like many, he is working from Brisbane instead of fulfilling the role in Geneva at the WHO headquarters.
Immediately before taking up his new role, Alam was working for Queensland Health in the Queensland Government’s COVID-19 Incident Management Team, where he was Epidemiologist Team Leader.
A combination of state and global COVID-19 responsibilities means Alam will feed a wealth of experience into his PhD at Griffith’s Centre for Environment and Population Health (CEPH).
“I have been appointed as Senior Consultant Epidemiologist with WHO but more specifically, I’m leading the epidemiologic component of contact tracing, which is a crucial component of the global pandemic response,” Alam said.
“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel as much work has already been done around the world but I’m more interested in identifying country specific needs and providing guidance to improve their response.
“The COVID situation is so rapidly evolving, particularly the variants of concern such as the Delta, for example, which is highly transmissible compared to other variants, so your response strategy needs to be adjusted accordingly.”
“The contact tracing guidelines should always be dynamic, so that we can change and adjust as the virus changes its genetic code (mutation) and becomes more transmissible, for example, the Delta variant, and also taking into consideration the vaccination uptake at the population level, so these are some of the key issues I’m working on.
“I’m looking at country capacities globally – which countries have what level of strength and how we can utilise some of those resources or experiences to help others, because contact tracing is an enormous task and most countries struggle to deal with contact tracing.
“As you can see, even in Australia, one single case in the community can trigger hundreds of contacts to be tracked in a very timely manner with accuracy and completeness.”
Alam’s PhD at CEPH directly relates to his WHO work and focuses on the One Health approach.
His PhD research investigates the enablers and barriers to implementing One Health as a novel approach to prevent the pandemic risk, like COVID-19.
“One Health is basically the collaboration of human health, animal health and environmental health,” he explained.
“About 75% of emerging diseases in humans originate in animals, and environment plays a key role in disease transmission. So, there is clearly a close link between the three sectors.”
CEPH Director Professor Cordia Chu AM said Alam’s appointment to the WHO as Epi Pillar Contact Tracing Lead in the WHO HQ COVID-19 Response Team, was significant.
“Alam was chosen because of his wealth of experience and his outstanding work as an Epidemiology Team Leader at the Queensland Government’s COVID-19 response team,” Professor Chu said.
“Queensland has garnered a reputation globally for mounting an exceptional public health response and Alam’s position at the WHO will have truly global implications.”
His appointment to the WHO runs until the end of 2021.
Another epidemiologist also doing a PhD through CEPH is Dr Dicky Budiman, whose work focuses on global health security and pandemic. His research aims to improve international health regulations, leadership and risk communication.
In demand for often daily media comment on COVID-19 matters, particularly across South East Asia, Dr Budiman also advises the Indonesian government on its pandemic strategy and WHO Indonesia on health policy and planning.
“CEPH is proud to have contributed to nurturing many health emergency leaders who are playing critical roles in leading pandemic responses in countries like China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam,” said Professor Chu.