(Originally published in Interdisciplinary MPH Program Alumni and Student News, Fall 2011)
Anja Takla MD, MPH ’09 writes: “Another city starting with B, I thought—this is promising! Almost all the places that have been important in my life start with the letter B: Bremen (Germany), where I grew up and worked for some years in internal medicine; Bergen (Norway) where I was first exposed to public health during my year abroad in medical school and decided— that’s it—that’s what I want to do!; Bern (Switzerland) and, especially, Beirut (Lebanon), where it dawned on me why public health is so important. And also there is Berlin, where I took my first course in epidemiology.
“I decided to come to UC Berkeley and the Interdisciplinary Program because the program allowed me to explore epidemiology along with other areas of public health—including courses on Current Issues in the Middle East and Anthropology. These courses helped me better understand the health-related problems I had seen Beirut and throughout my travels elsewhere in the Middle East. I treasured the freedom to study in so many different areas.
“After finishing the MPH I decided to take my epidemiology training a step further and put theory into practice. I was accepted into the German Field Epidemiology Training Programme at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. This is the German equivalent of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the training program is similar to the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service. Within one year I was involved in three separate outbreak investigations: a measles outbreak in an asylum seeker shelter where we enforced containment measures onsite, a mumps outbreak in a primary school where we estimated vaccine effectiveness, and the enormous sprout-associated Shiga toxinproducing E. coli (STEC) outbreak this past summer. I conducted a study on STEC secondary household transmission and worked with local and state health authorities to establish an enhanced epidemiological surveillance during the FIFA Women’s Soccer World Cup in Germany. I also set up an active outbreak surveillance for mumps to further investigate the disease’s epidemiological shift to young adults and increasing proportions of two-times MMR vaccinated subjects among cases.
“My work at the Institute allows me to combine research with applied day-to-day epidemiology. First and foremost, our projects and findings are intended to support the daily work of the public health authorities at the district and federal state levels. Ideally our findings will also help trigger policy or individual behavioral changes. But first we must ask the right questions and present our findings in a clear and appropriate way. The Interdisciplinary Program has prepared me well for these challenges.
“When friends asked me ten years ago what I would do with a master’s in public health, I replied: “Well, for example, you can work at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin and participate in the control of infectious diseases at national level.” And here I am ten years later, doing just that, and it’s just as fascinating as I thought it would be. In addition to the work itself, I love interacting with people at different levels of the public health system and with the general public—listening to different German dialects and sometimes weird and absurd but real outbreak reports. And yes, I’m living in another city starting with the letter B!”