Alumni in Action: Sarah Alger ’17 on implementing global health projects during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sarah Alger '17 discusses how she and her team pivoted to offer support and resources for communities around the world as COVID-19 impacted the implementation of their global health projects.

When she finished a master’s degree in public health from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C, Sarah Alger ’17 knew she wanted to pursue a career in global health programming. Alger followed this path and now works as an associate health practice specialist in the Global Health unit at DAI Global, LLC, an international development company with projects in approximately 200 countries.

Alger and her team are responsible for implementing projects for donors including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department for International Development (DFID). Alger’s main role is to provide project management support including implementation, backstopping and administrative management of Global Health Unit projects. She also provides additional support including contract management, financial management and technical assistance. Currently, Alger is supporting the implementation of three USAID projects:

  1. USAID Jalin: USAID’s Flagship Maternal and Newborn Health Project in Indonesia
  2. USAID Youth: Powered Ecosystem to Advance Urban Adolescent Health and Well-being Project in Nigeria
  3. USAID Accelerating Support to Advanced Local Partners (DAI is a subcontractor to IntraHealth)

According to the DAI website, the company is mobilizing to offer comprehensive COVID-19 services by pivoting their teams and re-aligning resources. They state “DAI is particularly well-positioned to meet the demands of this multidimensional crisis. Global in reach — with projects on the ground in almost 100 countries — DAI offers a rare combination of world-class expertise in pandemic preparedness and response plus decades of experience in crisis mitigation, economic recovery and government capacity building and support. Our local platforms in key geographies and our global network of projects are primed to implement rapid-response and longer-term interventions in support of our clients and local partners.”

Alger shares her experience working at DAI Global, LLC during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: How has the novel coronavirus impacted your day-to-day life and your work?

A: Since COVID-19 started spreading rapidly around the world, our workload in the Global Health unit has substantially increased. Our projects are having to pivot their activities to either work directly on COVID-19 or to work around COVID-19. For example, corporate and project offices around the world have temporarily closed, and staff are now working from home. On the USAID Jalin project, we have been able to pivot some of our maternal and newborn health (MNH) activities in Indonesia to ensure continued access to MNH services during the pandemic. The project created a webinar series for Indonesian midwives and other stakeholders in health on how to ensure COVID-19 infection prevention and control during midwifery services in primary care facilities.

We also had the opportunity to support the government of Indonesia to ensure continued essential MNH services during the pandemic through a national protocol. Lastly, we recently launched an online MNH counseling service for pregnant women, which may be scaled-up for implementation in other local government clinics following a successful pilot phase.

Aside from the direct project work, COVID-19 has challenged my ability to work remotely as my new normal is now working from my kitchen table, speaking with staff from around the world on Teams and WebEx, and starting up a new project without being in-country. It’s definitely been difficult working remotely, but our systems at DAI are set-up very well to accommodate our remote working situation.

Q: What have you learned during this pandemic?

A: I’ve always thought there wasn’t enough emphasis or funding in the field of One Health (focuses on the intersection of people, animals and the environment) and emerging pandemic threats. However, I do think now that this pandemic has occurred that these areas within Global Health will get more attention on the local, national and global levels.

I’ve also learned how quickly the field of international development can pivot their projects to support pandemic threats. It’s been amazing to see some of the projects at my company that typically don’t implement health work quickly adjust their activities to address the pandemic.

Q: What is something positive you have witnessed or experienced despite these difficult times?

A: My fellow Global Health team members have really stepped up to support each other during the pandemic. We recently won two new projects and project start-up is typically a heavy workload even without the challenges of doing everything remotely. However, team members within the unit and even staff from other units in the company have stepped up to support our on-going projects while we are busy with project start-up activities. It’s been really humbling to know even though we are all super busy, there is support from the team and the company to ensure we are still delivering high-quality work.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: As a public health professional, I do think that everyone should understand that COVID-19 is an infectious disease that will continue to spread until we either contain it or create a vaccine for it. We all want to get back to normal. However, once a new disease is discovered the disease will stay a public health threat until eradicated. Keep in mind Smallpox is the only disease we’ve been able to eradicate globally. So it’s going to be a long, tough road fighting this disease, but we are well equipped in the public health and medical fields to address the pandemic and with the communities’ help of following CDC’s guidelines we can prevent morbidity and mortality from the disease.

About this series: The Elon Alumni in Action series explores the stories of university graduates who are doing important and uplifting work as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic.