Chronic Disease & the COVID-19 Pandemic: How Global Health Taught A PHI/CDC Fellow that We Are One Global Community
- Whitney Hall, Administration & Communications Specialist, PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program
As our world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly clear that we are all part of one global community. For our Fellow Ayayi Ayite, MPH, MBA, the pandemic is a reminder of the call to serve others, as “our current pandemic we are having is actually proof that we can never have enough people in public health.” His advice for those who want to make a difference? Study public health and become part of the global health workforce to aid our global community.
“Our current pandemic we are having is actually proof that we can never have enough people in public health.”
Drawn to Healthcare While Working in Finance
Ayayi’s path to working in public health took several turns before becoming a PHI/CDC Global Health Fellow. Ayayi grew up in Lomé, Togo in west Africa, in a close-knit, Catholic family. As the primary language in Togo is French, Ayayi learned English as a second language starting in the 7th grade, and grew up speaking other local languages- Ewe, and Mina, which is also spoken in parts of Ghana, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire. After graduating from high school in 2002, Ayayi applied and was accepted to medical school. At that time, there was only one university in the whole country. Because he didn’t complete the exit exam required for medical school, Ayayi put his goals of working in healthcare on hold, studying finance instead. He earned his Associate Degree in Banking and Finance from the University of Lomé and received a scholarship to complete his Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Poitier in France. He returned home to Togo securing a job as a Branch Manager for IDH Mutual Bank up until 2009, when he immigrated to the U.S. and became a permanent resident. As the economy was still recovering from the financial crisis of 2008, Ayayi quickly realized there were no jobs available in banking. Instead of being distraught, Ayayi turned this career roadblock into a career opportunity and followed his dream of working in healthcare that he had put on hold so many years ago. He graduated with an Associate Degree in Clinical Laboratory Technology from Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Atlanta in 2015.
Ayayi turned this career roadblock into a career opportunity and followed his dream of working in healthcare that he had put on hold so many years ago.
Medical Technologist and Public Health Student
Ayayi worked as a Medical Technologist at Grady Memorial Hospital while pursuing a dual degree—an MPH and an MBA, from Benedictine University and graduated in 2019. As a Certified Medical Laboratory Scientist, he worked in a lab, specializing in hematology (testing and interpreting blood samples). He analyzed blood cell count and differential under the microscope and used cellavision, detected deficiencies or patterns that correlate with diseases, and reported the results to a doctor, who then made clinical decisions. Ayayi decided to pursue an MPH because of his desire to help people. In the lab, he realized that his technical skills were helping others only after they became sick. His shift to public health was also driven by his desire to “positively impact the world” through improving overall health and well-being by raising awareness of preventive measures. The MBA, he realized, would complement the MPH by providing skills in business administration, project management and financial management, which are all utilized in public health program implementation, as “public health programs analyze needs of a community [and] every program has a managerial aspect.”
“…public health programs analyze needs of a community [and] every program has a managerial aspect.”
Life as a Fellow
Ayayi saw the PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program as “the best opportunity to step into the global health area and CDC”. He first heard about the program in 2018, applied in 2019, and secured a Fellowship on the Epidemiology and Surveillance Team with CDC’s Center for Global Health in the Division of Global HIV and Tuberculosis. As a Fellow, he’s “learning a lot” and surrounded by experts in their field. Ayayi comments that he is “enjoying every single aspect of this fellowship- from my STATA training to my last trip in Haiti, everything has been great.”
Ayayi saw the PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program as “the best opportunity to step into the global health area and CDC”.
His CDC Mentors have continuously supported him and built a trusting, kind relationship by being “very approachable…and always available to help- I can’t ask for more than that.” They converse in French and his mentors encouraged him to start a French Club at CDC, which Ayayi has created and is now teaching his colleagues. Given that he works with French-speaking countries, Ayayi is a mulit-lingual asset, also conducting translation.
Supporting the Health of our Global Community
Ayayi’s work at CDC has focused on HIV-related projects, which includes everything from launching a project, to learning administrative processes and country protocols. As a skilled technologist experienced in HIV testing, he works in HIV/TB surveillance examining HIV testing in the field. In Africa (Zimbabwe and Botswana) and Haiti for field monitoring, he’s analyzed nurses’ techniques in drawing blood and assessed whether best practices were being implemented and what improvements could be made.
…these field visits with his CDC mentor and colleagues have left the strongest impact on him, as he’s been able to see how HIV continues to affect “every corner of the world—regardless of social ranking”
So far, these field visits with his CDC mentor and colleagues have left the strongest impact on him, as he’s been able to see how HIV continues to affect “every corner of the world—regardless of social ranking,” whether people are wealthy or living in extreme poverty in the rural countryside. The need to strengthen global HIV/AIDS prevention and response would not have been as apparent without this exposure and reinforced Ayayi’s dedication to global health.
Facing the COVID-19 Pandemic & Looking Ahead
Currently, Ayayi is one of several PHI/CDC Global Health Fellows working with CDC’s Emergency Operations Center on the COVID-19 International Task Force. The pandemic is especially threatening to people with “HIV, TB, malaria, [and] chronic disease like lung cancer…[which] are major health issues that will not end today, and we need people who will be around and educate communities.” As a public health professional, Ayayi is grateful that he can apply his technical skills to help our global community during this crisis. His prior experience has taught him that “to make the world a better place and a healthier place, we really need public health professionals all around the world, to implement and design programs that will contribute to people’s knowledge in terms of health, and that will be used to affect emergency situations like coronavirus.”
“We really need public health professionals all around the world, to implement and design programs that will contribute to people’s knowledge in terms of health, and that will be used to affect emergency situations like coronavirus.”
In the future, he hopes to continue his work with CDC, strengthen his professional skills and work towards becoming a consultant in the long term. He’s grateful for the mentorship of his former Professor of Epidemiology at Benedictine University, Dr. Susan Chang, who has been a constant source of support and guidance, influencing his career path. Congratulations to Ayayi, who was recently awarded the Rising Star Award from Benedictine University, recognizing his accomplishments as an alumnus. He would also like to “thank the PHI team that worked very closely with me to get me onboard for this fellowship. I will never be happier than this in my professional life.” He continues focusing on his goal “to learn as much as he can” and to help our global community “become a disease-free place.”
About Ayayi A. Ayite MPH, MBA, MLS(ASCP):
Ayayi Ayite is a current Epidemiology and Surveillance Fellow for the PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program at the Center for Global Health, Division of Global HIV and Tuberculosis at CDC headquarters. As a native French speaker, he supports Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (PHIA) projects in various Francophone countries including Haiti, Burundi, DRC, Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire and Botswana. In this role, he develops study protocols, survey materials, and Standard Operation Procedures. He also provides data analysis support and in-country technical assistance to implementing partners, including training to field workers, and monitoring of project progress.
Ayayi’s interest in Epidemiology began with a yearlong volunteering experience with the Office of Epidemiology and Statistics of the Dekalb County Board of Health, where he acquired basic practical knowledge in epidemiology, surveillance, and infectious disease case management and control. At the Dekalb County Board of Health, he investigated Hepatitis C cases from the Refugees’ Health program which played a key role in deciding to pursue a career in global health epidemiology.
For the past five years, he has worked as a Medical Technologist in hospital laboratory settings, including Grady Memorial Hospital and WellStar Atlanta Medical Center. His outstanding work and love of the laboratory have maintained him as PRN Laboratory Supervisor at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta while in the Fellowship.
Ayayi holds a dual MPH/MBA from Benedictine University, a Bachelor of Science in Management and Economics from University of Poitier in France and is a Certified Medical Laboratory Scientist. He is currently focng on strengthening his competencies and practical skills in epidemiology and surveillance, data analysis, monitoring and evaluation, with the professional goal of becoming a global health expert in these areas. Ayayi welcomes people to connect with him on LinkedIn.
Originally published by PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program