Leadership, politics, and communication: challenges of the epidemiology workforce during emergency response

Amy Elizabeth Parry*, Martyn D. Kirk, Samantha Colquhoun, David N. Durrheim, Tambri Housen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Improving the epidemiological response to emergencies requires an understanding of who the responders are, their role and skills, and the challenges they face during responses. In this paper, we explore the role of the epidemiologist and identify challenges they face during emergency response. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey to learn more about epidemiologists who respond to public health emergencies. The online survey included open and closed-ended questions on challenges faced while responding, the roles of epidemiology responders, self-rating of skills, and support needed and received. We used purposive sampling to identify participants and a snowballing approach thereafter. We compared data by a number of characteristics, including national or international responder on their last response prior to the survey. We analysed the data using descriptive, content, and exploratory factor analysis. Results: We received 166 responses from individuals with experience in emergency response. The most frequently reported challenge was navigating the political dynamics of a response, which was more common for international responders than national. National responders experienced fewer challenges related to culture, language, and communication. Epidemiology responders reported a lack of response role clarity, limited knowledge sharing, and communication issues during emergency response. Sixty-seven percent of participants reported they needed support to do their job well; males who requested support were statistically more likely to receive it than females who asked. Conclusions: Our study identified that national responders have additional strengths, such as better understanding of the local political environment, language, and culture, which may in turn support identification of local needs and priorities. Although this research was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the results are even more relevant now. This research builds on emerging evidence on how to strengthen public health emergency response and provides a platform to begin a global conversation to address operational issues and the role of the international epidemiology responder.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number33
    JournalHuman Resources for Health
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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