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The Corona Diaries: Out of Africa

Dr. Alyssa Pfister completed her internal medicine and pediatrics residency at UAB, but has worked as a physician in Kenya and Burundi for the last 10 years. She was here for a visit when COVID 19 stranded her in Birmingham, away from her work in Africa. Seeking to put her talents to use, she signed on with the Jeffco Health Department.

So I quickly tried to find a role that I could use my medical training to help with the pandemic efforts here in Birmingham. The health department was a great fit for me, where I am primarily doing testing or people experiencing homelessness in the county

Certainly This has been different than anything I’ve ever experienced. I have obviously a lot of experience practicing medicine in limited resource settings and taking care of diseases that are new to me that I had not cared for before or that I needed to learn about, but I think we’re all faced with the kind of challenges that I see from my work overseas. The uncertainty is hard for everybody You know nobody is able to plan their next month or next week.

You know overseas I work with a lot of people who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from.  So that uncertainty might be easier for some Africans then for Americans And then the other big piece that I see is individualism versus collectivism I think American culture is very individualistic and so we focus on our individual rights. And yet when you face a global pandemic you have to go with what’s gonna be the best for everybody, how can we protect the most number of people with the resources that we have. That’s been hard for Americans you know who have had to sacrifice some of their individual liberties in order to protect other people. But if you look at countries that have handled this well, a lot of them have a collectivist focus like some of the Asian countries and African countries.

The Jefferson County Department of Health opened a testing site for homeless people, to avoid any sort of COVID outbreak in the shelters, in the communal living facilities. Thankfully we’ve not seen a big outbreak in this population And some recent testing in the shelters has shown that there are very few people with COVID. So that’s a testimony to what has been done to maintain social distancing and all the C D C guidelines. No, it’s not easy but they’ve done a great job.

My personal plans are to go back to my work in Africa as soon as the borders reopen and I can get a visa again. I’m the director of pediatrics at a hospital over there and they miss me, and I miss it. That’s my hope to get back soon. But in the meantime I’m thankful to have work to do here locally and to participate in this moment in history in our country.

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