Former NIDA Humphrey Fellows Address COVID-19 and Change Jobs

Former NIDA Hubert H. Humphrey Drug Abuse Research Fellows report that they have changed jobs since completing their fellowships:

  • Ayesha AlHosani (United Arab Emirates, 2017–2018) is a policy and strategy specialist in the Vulnerable Groups Section of the Department of Community Development in Abu Dhabi. The department has just launched a Substance Use Disorder Strategy to provide quality, effective, and accessible care services in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. She is currently working to establish a drug observatory in Abu Dhabi.
  • Lal Bahadur Kunwar (Nepal, 2018–2019) is designing mobile interventions for Medic Mobile, a nonprofit tech company that works on digital innovation to improve health in Nepal’s hardest-to-reach communities. With the use of mobile technology, the interventions help coordinate care between communities and health facilities and strengthen district health care systems with better data management. The company’s current focus is reproductive, maternal, neonatal, and child health; nutrition; family planning; and immunization.
  • Chen Shmilo (Israel, 2017–2018) is the managing director of @8200 IMPACT, the first acceleration program in Israel for social technology start-ups. These firms aim to solve significant social problems through technology in a wide spectrum of fields, including public health and sustainability.

Other former NIDA Humphrey Fellows are contributing to efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Look for more updates on the Virginia Commonwealth University Humphrey Fellowship Facebook page.

  • Yu Yu Aung (Burma [Myanmar], 2014–2015), is piloting an online version of the Association for Healthy Adolescent Development’s (AHEAD) Happy and Healthy Journey program. The AHEAD program teaches vulnerable 13- to 16-year-olds critical skills, such as self-control, goal setting, and positive decision-making. Ms. Aung reports that it was challenging to reformat the substance abuse prevention program because it relied so heavily on interactive activities and group exercises.
  • Mohamed Abdelghani Moustafa (Egypt, 2015–2016) and his colleagues in the Department of Psychiatry at Zagazig University in Egypt are currently conducting two research projects on the impacts of COVID-19. One of the studies is examining the relationship between the effects of anxiety and fears caused by COVID-19 and the quality of lives of physicians who are working on the frontlines of the pandemic. The second study examines how the impact of work stressors related to COVID-19 affects the rate of burnout and quality of life experienced by health care professionals.
  • When the Ugandan nongovernmental agency Youth Development Link (UYDEL) was forced to close its youth drop-in centers due to COVID-19, Executive Director Rogers Kasirye (2011–2012) and Senior Programme Manager Mutaawe Rogers (2015–2016) received distress calls from many of the 1,500 children they normally serve. Most were hungry and subject to physical violence; 60% reported being exploited sexually in exchange for food. The UYDEL staff helped government agencies deliver food in Kampala, provided small sums of cash, and implemented an innovative program to teach some of their young female clients to sew face masks. UYDEL is calling for awareness campaigns to help reduce dependency, sexual exploitation, violence, and trauma.
  • Marcella Katjijova (Namibia, 2019–2020) trained members of the Oruuano Protestant Unity Church on how COVID-19 might contribute to increases in gender-based violence, violence against children, and substance abuse. During her fellowship, Ms. Katjijova was certified by ChildSavers on trauma-informed prevention and recovery interventions.
  • Kristina Köhler (Estonia, 2019–2020) returned early from her Humphrey Fellowship to rejoin the Public Health Department of the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs. There she helped devise the country’s exit strategy for the initial COVID-19 restrictions, strengthen health system capacity, and plan for future steps to contain the pandemic. The plan focuses on (1) maintaining awareness of safe behavior and developing skills; (2) raising awareness and skills of institutions, companies, and event organizers about the need for measures to reduce the risk of infection; (3) ensuring rapid diagnosis and treatment of those affected and preventing further spread of the virus; (4) situation monitoring, research, and international cooperation; and (5) ensuring preparedness for possible new health crises.
  • Farheen Naveed (Pakistan, 2015–2015), founder of Drug-Free Pakistan, started a relief program to tackle food insecurity in Pakistan during the pandemic. The U.S. Consulate in Karachi and Karachiites, an organization of Pakistanis living in the United States, have contributed to the cause. Drug-Free Pakistan helped coordinate food deliveries to more than 3,000 families. The program was profiled by Voice of America. Before the pandemic, Ms. Naveed and her colleagues launched Lift-Up, a violence prevention program for women living in drug-affected families. Lift-Up includes counseling and survivors’ workshops for women and training workshops for professionals working in the field. Salman Shahzad (2016–2017 Humphrey Fellow) was among the alumni contributing to the program.
  • Daniela Ocaña Gordillo (Ecuador, 2016–2017), leader of the National Strategy for Drug Use Prevention at the Ecuador Ministry of Education, and her colleagues have developed several initiatives to address adolescent substance use within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. These initiatives include a protocol to help psychologists support students and their families in terms of alcohol and drug consumption and a guideline to help families identify the early signs of drug abuse among adolescents and how to respond appropriately. In addition, Ministry psychologists are participating in a 5-week training program on how to address and treat withdrawal symptoms and abstinence during the lockdown. The training is being conducted in collaboration with Parametria Consultancy in Ecuador, the U.S. Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and the Mexican organizations Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) and Catalizador.
  • Salman Shahzad (Pakistan, 2016–2017) conducted an online Psychological First Aid training for field workers, teachers, and community leaders throughout Pakistan. This training was designed to help community leaders implement brief interventions to reduce the psychological impacts of COVID-19. He also conducted a 6-week training program for caregivers of children who have substance use disorders and are in residential facilities. The training helped caregivers understand the dynamics of trauma and its connection to coping within a crisis. Dr. Shahzad plans to start weekly radio talks on mental health and substance use prevention and treatment to reach a broader audience.
  • Building on an interest he developed during his 2010–2011 Humphrey Fellowship, Mário Sérgio Sobrinho is volunteering with colleagues at Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brazil, to develop ways to help Alcoholics Anonymous provide online peer support during the pandemic. Membership and requests for help increase daily, and website visits have increased 75%. Some meetings are devoted to new participants, and Mr. Sobrinho says older and poorer participants are at risk because they do not have good internet or smartphone access.
  • Zaira Zambelli Taveira (Brazil, 2017–2018), health care management coordinator for the Brazilian Indigenous Health Secretariat, and her colleagues are preventing and managing COVID-19 cases in more than 6,000 indigenous villages, each with their own district contingency plans. A series of educational videos explain COVID-19 transmission and prevention to indigenous peoples and the health and sanitation agents who serve them. The Secretariat provided personal protection equipment and established 34 rapid response teams as well as new primary care units to improve care and quickly identify new COVID cases. In addition, the Ministry of Health publishes epidemiological data on infections among indigenous people 6 days a week. Ms. Taveira also completed with distinction a Leaders in International Health Program developed by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization. The program addresses six key competency areas: situational analysis; policy design and decision-making; negotiation and advocacy; project management and cooperation; generation and exchange of knowledge; and communication.