Observing the COVID-19 outbreak from within the China CDC

I decided to move to China after graduating from the IGHS master’s program last year to continue my internship with the Beijing Tobacco Control Association. My capstone research advisors (Tingting Yao and Hai-Yen Sung) had connected me with China CDC, and eventually I found a job as a bilingual editor working on the China CDC Weekly.

During the outbreak of COVID-19, I’ve been in direct contact with leading researchers from China CDC as I work on editing and clarifying details for every paper that has been approved for publication. While I have had to work from home, given the current public health regulations, I maintain close communications with the director of my department and the directors of China CDC to propose dissemination channels that might benefit an international audience, such as the Tracking the Epidemic webpage and the China CDC Weekly Twitter. Because we are a new publication – our first issue released on November 29, 2019 – our resources are still limited, and some studies done by China CDC researchers may be published elsewhere. But I have high hopes for the future.

While I have been in Beijing, I have been mostly isolated at home. Many of my American colleagues and friends have returned to the U.S. Although I am able to go outside and buy groceries, most venues, including my neighborhood complex and convenience stores, have enacted strong public health measures, including registering with contact information and carrying permits. As I pass day 40 of my semi-isolation without a clear end in sight, I feel as though certain challenges have become magnified, and I feel especially strongly for my friends and former students in Wuhan, where I taught at a university for a year. Although none have been infected by COVID-19, we have shared a sense of witnessing a disaster firsthand as we have seen the shutdown of a vibrant, expanding society and the sacrifices of tens of thousands of healthcare workers. We can only hope for a future better secured by the lessons learned here.

My perspective on global health has grown greatly because of these experiences in China, especially as I’m participating in the expansion of China’s public health work to be more globally focused. Researchers and policy advisors are becoming much more aware of how their successes and failures could inform communities across China and abroad. The concentration of respiratory disease-related conferences and international meetings I’ve been able to attend is really encouraging to the forward progress and shaping of a global health coalition, especially within Asia. Furthermore, there’s been some talk about potential travel to Africa to help develop English-language weekly publications, and I think these channels will be incredibly important in collaborating to achieve a shared vision of health for all.

I want to use my current position to work with other major organizations, e.g., the Gates Foundation, WHO, UNDP, and the U.S. CDC, to contribute to making people’s health a commonplace, foundational priority rather than an aspirational goal. I am extremely fortunate to be in a position where I believe this is possible, and I look forward to the immediate and far future.