Last month, Timothy Hayden returned to Australia (where I’m currently based) after coordinating the WASH activities Aspen Medical for four remote Ebola Treatment Units in Liberia. I interviewed him about his work there and in other regions of the globe—including the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, East Timor, Namibia, Kenya, and Turkey. Hayden has worked for various organizations over the years. We finished this interview just as he was preparing for a deployment to Nepal (with Oxfam UK) in the wake of the earthquake.
Janet Golden: What is WASH?
We have heard a lot about the work of physicians and nurses treating individuals with Ebola. What are the duties of public health officers responding to an Ebola outbreak? What was a typical week in Liberia like for you?
Do you think Ebola will be back? And what can we do to prevent its return?
In the past few years you've been involved with natural and manmade public health disasters. Can you tell us what you did as a WASH leader responding to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines?
And what kinds of activities did you undertake as a WASH coordinator helping individuals living in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in Turkey?
What are the most rewarding parts of your work in global public health?
The most rewarding part of my job is being able to help people who are not in a position to help themselves. It is also heart lifting when you see communities helping themselves from your capacity-building activities. Another perk of my job is all the wonderful people I have met and the amazing places I have worked in. I have learned many things on my way.
And what are the most frustrating parts of your work?
Probably politics. Many politicians in developing nations are openly corrupt and seem not to care at all about the people that they are supposed to serve, protect and support. While I wouldn't explain it as frustrating, it is very sad to see what direct and indirect effects that war has on the most vulnerable.
How did you become a public health specialist? What was your background and training?
I was introduced to public health as a medic in the Australian Army, where it was important to understand how specific environments and personal behaviors influenced health and to work out ways to reduce the spread of disease. I completed a Health Science (Environmental Health) degree in 1999 at the age of 30 (a late starter…) and I completed a Masters of Public Health in 2006. I still believe, however, that I learned the most by getting out there and giving it a go.
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