The fluorescent lights reflect off the shiny floor at the Islamabad International Airport, one of the largest points of entry in Pakistan. Red stanchions at the security checkpoint direct arriving passengers toward a temperature scan, blue privacy screens, and a group of masked public health workers in blue scrubs ready to test every passenger for COVID-19.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Nadia Noreen, a graduate of Pakistan’s Field Epidemiology Training and Laboratory Program (FETLP), was one of those screening passengers at the Islamabad airport. Now, she serves as the COVID-19 focal person for all the country’s points of entry for the Pakistani Ministry of Health. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Noreen and her teams have screened 1.7 million passengers from 8,807 incoming flights as of October 2021.
“We work day and night, and there is still no time,” said Noreen. “I remember at the beginning when outbreaks were at their worst in China, I wouldn’t come home until midnight.”
Through those long hours, Noreen found strength and inspiration in her nation, she said, noting that the desire to protect “the health of my nation and wellbeing of my fellow Pakistanis” helped her persevere.
“I think this is one of the first times we have come together with this kind of passion to fight a national emergency since the earthquake disaster in 2005 and, by the grace of God, Pakistan has done a great job compared to other countries in this region,” she said.
After beginning her career in clinical work, Noreen realized she wanted a job that allowed her to work in her community so she chose public health. After completing her masters in public health, she attended the Pakistan FETLP, a member of The Task Force’s Training Programs in Field Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET). To date, TEPHINET, the global network of field epidemiology training programs, has trained more than 19,000 disease detectives like Noreen to build disease outbreak and response capacity in more than 100 countries.
Noreen’s desire to help protect her nation is inspired by her own hero, her late father, a man who “helped others without getting anything in return,” she said. Noreen reflected back on when she found out she was admitted to medical school 23 years ago.
“My father brought sweets home and started crying with words ‘My child go and make us proud,’” she said. “I think he would be proud and very happy to see me helping the people of my nation and the world.”
Photo 2 courtesy of Munzir Rosdi for Shutterstock. All other photos courtesy of Nadia Noreen.