CARRFS eNew profiles a leading member in each issue. In this issue we profile Dr. Ali Artaman, Manager, Epidemiology, Surveillance and Research, Eastern Ontario Health Unit.
First Published, October 2013
What is your background?
I have a varied educational background: general medicine, health administration and epidemiology. In the mid-1990s, I was primarily involved in clinical practice as a general practitioner and field physician in West Asia. In the late 90s, I participated in an international health internship program in Central Asia. The internship, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, was related to HIV epidemiology. At that time, Central Asian countries had a very low prevalence rate but a relatively high incidence rate of HIV infection. This activity stimulated my interest in epidemiology and global health. In the early 2000s, I was a public heath consultant in Central Asia and the Caucasus. I worked with a number of medical and research centers, particularly cancer institutes, on system-level issues related to health information and data management.
In the mid 2000s, while working on my master’s in epidemiology at Michigan State University, I coordinated a CDC-funded data centre for autism surveillance and research. Subsequently, I managed a large NIH-funded retrospective study in Michigan related to perinatal and childhood cancer epidemiology. In 2008, I started my work as an epidemiology manager in Essex County dealing with epidemiological issues related to the Great Lakes region. For over a year, I have been in Eastern Ontario – not too far from Ottawa.
What inspired you to become an epidemiologist?
Epidemiology is indeed a product of the marriage between statistics and medicine. It is a very interesting ambit for someone who has a broad spectrum of scientific interests, for a person who wants to learn both qualitative and quantitative methodologies of health research. While a graduate student in health administration, my mentors at the University of Ottawa encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree in epidemiology. I ended up completing a PhD in epidemiology in Michigan.
What do you spend the most time on in your current position?
A good part of my current job is about descriptive epidemiology. I have been working on data summary, disease surveillance and health status reports. The small team of epidemiologists I manage work with the data on communicable diseases, chronic disease risk factors, child health, and program evaluation. We are also committed to providing support related to indigenous population health in the border region of Akwesasne.
Another matter of interest to us is exploring the possibility of syndromic surveillance which requires real-time communication with various clinical institutions. Our other activities include access to new data sources, spatial epidemiology, and professional mentorship.
What was your motivation to become a member of the CARRFS?
Initially, I became a member of the Environmental Scan Working Group whose main task was to provide a snapshot of risk factor surveillance in various parts of Canada and other countries. For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of being a member, and most recently a co-chair, of the CARRFS Canadian Coordination Committee. I have met a number of wonderful professionals who are ambitious enough to discuss a possible national surveillance strategy and promote risk factor surveillance innovation.
How do you see the current role of the CARRFS in Canada today?
The CARRFS at minimum provides a networking opportunity for health professionals and any others interested to share knowledge of public health surveillance in general and risk factor surveillance in particular.
The CARRFS is currently in transition from its infancy period while facing governance, budgetary and strategic challenges. We have discussed various options for working group structures, the format of national forums, functionality and publicity of the Website.
What are the opportunities for the CARRFS?
This grassroots network has been run with a relatively low budget, but with a considerable membership pool representing different geographic areas and health professional groups. The CARRFS has great potential to be a Canadian portal for the surveillance of disease risk factors. I am hopeful that this alliance can stimulate discussions around technical and administrative procedures which relate to the linkage between disease and risk factor surveillance.
The funding issues, due to austerity measures, make it a challenge to drive a pan-Canadian network. A possible solution is to transform the CARRFS from an alliance having face-to-face interaction to a highly virtual network. We also need to make sure that we reach out to any potential organizational partners to attract new members and seek support towards the mandate of the CARRFS. <>
By Jostein Algroy