Dr. Aziza Al Balushi: Master of Public Health, 2015. Public Health Specialist in the Omani Ministry of Health
While we appraise the global impact of the pandemic, this small sultanate on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula is far from most of our minds. But for Dr. Aziza Al Balushi (Master of Public Health, 2015) - Oman is home, where she fights the growing threat of the virus on the frontline.
Dr. Al Balushi is a Public Health Specialist in the Omani Ministry of Health, where she works in the Directorate of Communicable Diseases. Despite the impression given by the title, Dr. Al Balushi doesn’t spend the majority of her day behind a desk. Instead, she is responsible for conducting testing in symptomatic individuals and those who come into close contact with confirmed cases, as well as the systematic contact tracing of positive cases. While the task is formidable, Dr. Al Balushi is “proud to be on the frontline.” As she optimistically notes, “with every disaster comes an opportunity to chart a different future with new urgency and voices.”
Despite her positive outlook, the crisis in Oman has brought particularly distinct challenges. Dr. Al Balushi mentions that the situation in Oman was different to other countries. While hysteria was initially amplified in the rest of the world, they remained calm with few cases. But now, cases and fatalities are increasing every day. Dr. Al Balushi explains this unique public health predicament:
“It was expected that lockdown for months might reduce the number of cases and will help contain the spread of the virus, however, in Oman the lockdown did not help much despite the government's strict social distancing rules and heavy fines. Despite the restrictions, the number of cases increased because of non-adherence of people to restrictions on family gatherings.”
With traditional occasions like Eid and Ramadhan, the Ministry of Health faces the difficult task of restricting people from gathering with their relatives as is customary and intrinsic to the culture. They have recently introduced a lockdown and curfew for the duration of Eid ul-Adha which has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of cases which she hopes will continue. Dr. Al Balushi and her colleagues face the challenge of balancing cultural sensitivity with public health demands, as she reminds us that “culture plays a vital role and forcing people to adopt new behaviors and discipline themselves to obey the restrictions will remain a challenge.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Al Balushi hopes this pandemic will be a catalyst for progress. In Oman, it has revealed the shortcomings of the existing healthcare system. The hospital system has been overwhelmed and exposed the need for upheaval of infection and prevention control measures. She is hopeful that the current demands could result in support of a more aggressive and robust public healthcare system in the future, as people recognize the importance of safeguarding the future.
Her motivation each day is to learn new skills and knowledge, which she says is the same motivation that drove her through her studies. Dr. Al Balushi came to Melbourne in 2014 to study her Master of Public Health. She came to Australia for the weather but stayed for the opportunity to study at the University of Melbourne. Dr. Al Balushi encourages current students to make the most of the diversity at the University by mingling with different people from different countries and learning from their cultural experiences.
While the workday is occupied with the mounting pressures of the pandemic, the rest of her time is devoted to raising her 9-month-old baby, who keeps her moving and hopeful. Dr. Al Balushi’s consistent efforts and unwavering hope despite the chaos of her existence are inspirational for us all.