Appreciating the Role of IH in Infectious Diseases
It was Staff Appreciation Week at AIHA, and I was looking forward to the celebratory breakfast. Instead, I found myself heading into Washington, D.C. to engage in a fascinating discussion about the United States’ preparedness for pandemics. The setting was a large conference room in the offices of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), where I joined more than 30 other organizational representatives for the first-ever combined workshop of public and private partners to discuss supply chain issues related to the Strategic National Stockpile, or SNS.

RESPONDING TO PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCIES One would be forgiven for thinking that the SNS deals with some type of nuclear or petroleum issue, but it actually involves the United States’ ability to respond to public health emergencies such as suspected outbreaks of infectious diseases. These incidents thoroughly engage the training of IHs and often result in important lessons learned.  Speed and information are among the most crucial elements of emergency response; accordingly, we spent much of our time reviewing the existing protocols and brainstorming potential improvements. Some of the questions included: Which groups should be contacted first? Is it best for government entities to contact only a few trade associations, who can then relay messages to their members? Are larger blast emails more effective? Sometimes key agency staff need to speak with stakeholders by phone; what protocols do associations have in place to respond to these incidents? Does each organization have a point of contact? What happens if that POC is unavailable? Do the POCs understand that they might need to respond to an incident in the middle of the night or when they’re out on a golf course? We eventually settled on a three-pronged approach: a blast email will be sent to all partners containing a one- to two-page summary of the incident; ASPR will set up a call or webinar with all partners to share additional information and coordinate in real time; and actions will be taken based on the feedback received via email and phone or webinar, and response operations will continue. One of the key takeaways from these discussions is that each disease and incident is different, presenting unique challenges. Responses that are appropriate for one disease may not be appropriate for another. Appropriately tailored responses can mean the difference between life and death, sickness and health.

Each disease and incident is different, presenting unique challenges. Responses that are appropriate for one disease may not be appropriate for another.
MARK AMES is AIHA’s director of Government Relations. Send feedback to The Synergist.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in different form on the SynergistNOW blog on Sept. 17, 2019.

ENGAGING WITH OTHERS As for next steps, it’s clear that a great many actors are involved in the prevention and control of infectious diseases, and that IH, for all its relevance and importance, risks being left out. As with all professions, it is in our collective interest to be at the table and remind those assembled what we have to offer.  Both the government and non-government sectors realize the importance of communicating with each other and are aware that not everyone who should be at the table always is. This awareness is what led me to the pandemic workshop, which I heard about through my network. I was speaking with one of my colleagues from another association about AIHA’s work with hearing protection and mentioned as an aside that IHs are also incredibly important on issues such as infectious diseases. That prompted an introduction to a key player at ASPR, which led to an invitation to attend the workshop. With this in mind, please continue networking and talking about the issues you care about most. Help people understand the many ways that IH impacts their lives every day. You never know where your conversations will take you. If you need help, please check out AIHA’s conversation starters (PDF), which provide useful talking points and data to help you engage with others who might not understand your important work.