School of Population Health

Dr Abrar Chughtai: Taking a public health approach to emerging infections and global health security

Abrar ChughtaiDr Abrar Chughtai is the director of the Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence (MIDI) program in the School of Population Health (SPH). Abrar is a medically trained infectious diseases epidemiologist with extensive experience in public health programs and infectious diseases research. His research interests include epidemiology and control of emerging infections, focusing on the use of face masks and other personal protective equipment in healthcare settings. He teaches undergraduate and postgraduate infectious diseases courses at the School. 
 
Abrar is an emerging leader on personal protective equipment research, and is currently contributing his expertise to inform policy on the use of protective equipment for the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently he is seconded to NSW Health to support for the COVID-19 response. He is a member of the Public Health Association Australia (PHAA) COVID-19 Technical Advice and Response Committee, which provides technical and strategic advice to the Board and CEO of PHAA on issues relating to COVID-19. He also regularly comments in the media on the epidemiology and control of COVID-19 and has had several publications on the use of face masks for COVID-19, with other research underway. 

Why did you choose a career in infectious diseases and public health research?

I've always been keen to use various public health approaches to prevent and control emerging infections. Despite our improved understanding of the epidemiology and control of infectious diseases, many new infections are emerging, which pose an ongoing threat to global health security. Recently emerged pathogens include the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), avian influenza A(H5N1) virus, pandemic influenza A(H1N1), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), avian influenza A(H7N9) virus and COVID-19. 
 
A public health approach is the best to prevent the spread of emerging infections, which includes preparing, preventing, detecting and responding to the threat of emerging and epidemic-prone infectious diseases such as COVID-19. 

How are you helping respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?

I am helping inform policymakers in Australia and globally on the selection and use of personal protective equipment for COVID-19.Generally, various pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical measures are employed in healthcare and community settings during outbreaks and pandemics to control infections and prevent further spread. This includes the use of vaccines and drugs, hygiene and disinfection, improving environmental control, early detection and reporting, isolation, quarantine, use of personal protective equipment, social distancing and imposing travel restrictions. Because at this stage there is no vaccine or drugs available for COVID-19, we have to rely on non-pharmaceutical measures.

How does the MIDI prepare students to tackle pandemics like COVID-19?

In an era of new and emerging disease threats the MIDI equips graduates with advanced skills in the many, and complex public health aspects of infectious diseases surveillance and intelligence, outbreak response, and infection prevention and mitigation. Our MIDI program is relevant for professionals working or seeking a career in government, non-government, community and health service settings in Australia and internationally, and who want to gain a better understanding of infectious diseases intelligence, and management approaches of these. 
 
There are many interesting core courses in the program, making it highly relevant to the world we live in today, such as 'outbreak investigation and intelligence', 'infectious diseases challenges', 'bio-terrorism and health intelligence', 'epidemiology' and 'bio-statistics', with plenty of other relevant elective courses available for students.
  
Our Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence, the only one of its kind, is essential for professionals who work in or aspiring to work in health emergencies, outbreaks, infectious diseases risk assessment and emergency responses to infectious diseases. Like all our courses, the Master of Infectious Disease Intelligence can be delivered entirely online. Applications are now open -- find out more here.  

COVID-19 - Dr Chughtai's publications and media highlights