Educating Canadians about COVID-19 and other infectious diseases

Zeeshan Qadar, MS'09

As the world struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, Heller alumni are working globally to help combat its spread. In Winnipeg, Canada, Zeeshan Qadar, MS’09, is a project manager at the National Collaborating Center for Infectious Diseases (NCCID), an organization which has a federal mandate to conduct knowledge translation and exchange in infectious diseases, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

“Infectious diseases have always fascinated me,” Qadar says. “How do these unicellular microbial pathogens transmit and infect populations around the world to become epidemics and pandemics, especially in association with climate change?”

“We live in a globalized environment, where we are interconnected via different modes of transportation, whether it’s by automobiles, by trains or by airplanes. Similarly, we are a lot more dependent on supply chain routes for different commodities and raw materials around the world. In addition, humans in the past century have evolved a phenomenon of megacities which have become economic hubs for millions of people.

“With all the advancements in science and technology in every facet of life, we think we’re on top of the game. But in fact, it has also made us vulnerable. In this pandemic, we’re still going back to the basic, classic public health measures of cleaning ourselves and washing our hands and socially distancing from each other, which was the same methodology adopted during the Spanish flu era, a century back.”  

Most recently, he’s worked on a series of disease debriefs and quick links on COVID-19, providing the most up-to-date information about disease transmission, symptoms, case definitions, treatments, contact tracing, and more for those on the front lines, such as medical professionals and public health officers.

“We’re constantly updating them because there’s a bombardment of information, from academics and researchers, both clinical and nonclinical. It’s important to keep track of the ongoing research and guidelines that are going around and make sure front-line health care providers are getting accurate information,” Qadar says. He also developed a repository for public health resources related to COVID-19 created by provinces and territories in various languages. He also contributes behind the scenes to NCCID’s weekly “Infectious Questions” podcast, which covers issues like preparedness in nursing homes and stigma and discrimination. 

Qadar is proud to play a role in Canada’s public health response to COVID-19.

“Canada has done a really good job at managing this pandemic. The public health strategy we adopted is really phenomenal,” he says.   

In addition to his knowledge mobilization work, Qadar has embarked on several research projects with domestic and international collaborators.

He’s co-principal investigator on a project looking at the role of communication strategies and media discourse in shaping psychological and behavioral response to the COVID-19 outbreak, comparing Canada, Hong Kong and the Philippines. He’s also studying ethical frameworks and models for unproven treatments during a pandemic in Canada and around the world. 

As a side project, he is working with a Chinese collaborator from the Guangzhou province to discover how factors like age, gender and other biomarkers played a role in infection in that area. 

This pandemic has revealed the importance of global public health practitioners, Qadar says, as he draws on tools from his MS in Global Health Policy and Management degree. Heller is “on top of the game in knowing the demand of the market.” For example, GIS, or geographic information systems, part of the curriculum at Heller, now plays a huge role in identifying coronavirus hot spots locally and globally.

“We need to understand that we as human being as are really vulnerable when we think about infectious diseases and treatment models,” Qadar says. “Every country needs to have a very strong pandemic preparedness plan.”