The Center of the Public Health Practice (CPHP) at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) in the American University of Beirut (AUB) organized a volunteering activity at the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) from March to September 2020. Twenty-five students from various graduate and undergraduate programs at FHS volunteered with the MOPH, with the aim to offer support during the fight against COVID-19.
Following a training in early July, students were assigned to support the Epidemiologic Surveillance Unit (ESU) at the MoPH. Our students supported contact tracing in Lebanon through collecting information from passengers at the Rafik Hariri international airport as well as volunteering at the Ministry's call centers. Volunteers were also involved in community-based initiatives aiming to raise awareness and promote prevention and preparedness practices. The MoPH granted our students certificates acknowledging their service.
Commenting on this experience, Leen El Zoor, a junior student in Health Communication, described it as “an essential part of my domain". “We learn to raise awareness of a certain issue based on the different target audience we have and to send a specific message through the right way of communication," added Leen. “As students who will have a major role in society's health in the future, learning how to interact with different people is very important to be successful in what we do," she concluded, encouraging other students to join volunteering efforts since it will surely add to their knowledge and experience.
Many students volunteering at the call center were in charge of providing COVID-19 confirmed cases and exposed individuals with instructions related to home isolation and seeking medical care when deemed necessary.
Jana Bsat, a medical imaging student volunteering at the call center, praised this experience that allowed her to “enhance her communication skills, and most importantly actively help the community".
While Julia Zaydan, who also volunteered at the call center, stressed how, through her time at the Ministry, she “learned to deal with people from different backgrounds, stay alert and updated on what is happening around the world regarding COVID-19. I also contributed in detecting and correcting misleading information that is being circulated", stated Julia, acknowledging that wrong information, referred to as the “infodemic", is one of the main challenges that scientists, health professionals, and decision makers are facing when addressing COVID-19.
Placed at the Rafik Hariri International Airport, Suzy Beidoun, a senior student at the Medical Laboratory Sciences, was part of the team collecting demographic data and PCR testing data from incoming passengers. “I received the email from the Faculty about this volunteering opportunity and didn't hesitate to go for it. I wanted to play my role as a citizen and a public health student in helping to address this virus". Talking about how did this experience benefited her, Suzy considered it as a must for every student. “In addition to the practical work in the field and the various professional interactions that come with it, whether with the staff, scientists, or with passengers, I was able to gain direct insight on how the country is actually handling the pandemic."
With FHS' holistic approach in public health education, research, policies and practice, the CPHP is one of the main pillars at the Faculty, advancing evidence-based public health practice in Lebanon and the Arab region while leveraging the academic experience of students and faculty this initiative allows students to put their academic knowledge into tangible experiences, and apply their acquired skills to support and improve their communities.