IANPHI Selects Mentor-Mentee Pairs to Foster Professional Growth

IANPHI has selected three “mentor-mentee” pairs to inaugurate its new Mentorship Program. 

Dr. Emmanuel Oni Idigbe, former director-general and current director of research of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, agreed earlier this year to advise Dr. Amabelia Rodrigues, research director of the Bandim Health Project in Guinea-Bissau. 

Dr. Omar Khan, director of global health and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Vermont, USA, willserve as mentor to senior scientific officer Dr. M. Mushtuq Husain of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, Bangladesh.

Dr. Richard Rothenberg, professor of public health at Georgia State University, USA, has been matchedwith research scientist Dr. Mary Mayige of the National Institute for Medical Research, Tanzania.

The IANPHI Mentorship Program facilitates active partnerships between experienced public health leaders and promising current or potential national public health institute (NPHI) leaders. This program is part of an ongoing IANPHI effort to build human capacity and provide a career path for public health professionals through training in strategic leadership and management. Part of this commitment involves providing current and future NPHI leaders with the public health tools, training, and support they need to develop their full potential. 

National public health institutes are vital to protecting not only their nations’ health, but also economic and political security. NPHIs around the world are their countries’ first line of defense in investigating, diagnosing, and containing infectious disease outbreaks and combating chronic diseases.

The U.S. version of a national public health institute is the U.S. CDC in Atlanta. Similarly, there is the Health Protection Agency in the United Kingdom, the China CDC, and the RIVM in the Netherlands. Some NPHIs, such as those in Brazil and Finland, have existed for decades. Others, such as the Public Health Agency of Canada, were created in the wake of major and dramatic public health crises that highlighted deficits in capacity, leadership, and coordination. 

Several IANPHI member countries such as Guinea-Bissau, are actively working to create an NPHI in the next few years. Guinea-Bissau has suffered a bitter civil war and many serious disease outbreaks including a recent devastating cholera epidemic. Dr. Rodrigues has been among those championing efforts to rebuild the nation’s public health system and improve its population’s health. “A workable NPHI will transform our capacity to recognize and monitor health problems and respond with evidence-based policies and actions. It will be a tremendous resource for coordinating and providing leadership for core public-health functions.” 

NPHIs are particularly important in low- and middle-resource countries because they can provide an antidote to brain drain and a career home for public health professionals interested in participating in initiatives like the IANPHI mentorship program. The added value of the mentor program is that it will help future NPHI leaders take a more active role in determining their future while engaging in a number of public health processes that contribute to the development of their country. 

The 2009-11 mentor-mentee pairs have welcomed with great enthusiasm the opportunity to participate in the mentorship program. For the next two years, they will communicate regularly via email and monthly conference calls and partner to develop plans to implement and evaluate their joint ventures. “This is a great opportunity to further my public health career,” says Dr. Mayige of Tanzania. “This program will help to enhance my professional skills in leadership, communication, program management and grant writing.” 

Dr. Husain says the program’s networking possibilities will allow him to gain experience in outbreak investigation and disease surveillance. “I would like to contribute towards the development of an efficient, modern public health system in Bangladesh, and the mentorship program serves as a reliable vehicle to help get me there,” he says. 

The IANPHI Mentorship Program is funded by a generous gift from Dr. David Heymann, derived from a Heinz Family Foundation award and through the Better World Fund. “It is tremendously satisfying to see IANPHI’s progress in moving this program forward to link such accomplished public health professionals and promising leaders,” says Dr. Heymann. “Their work together—IANPHI, mentors, and mentees—will affect the health of thousands.” 

IANPHI is an international advocacy and professional organization for NPHI directors in more than 60 countries as well as a major investor in public health infrastructure projects in low-resource countries. Funded through Emory University by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, IANPHI helps countries with the long-term planning and priority-setting necessary to develop strong public health systems.

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