Doctor gets top job in European disease control - 29/1/2007

Doctor gets top job in European disease control
Cynthia Busuttil
link to The Times

Maltese doctors will soon have a point of contact within the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control when Public Health Director Andrew Amato Gauci takes up a job there. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Andrew Amato Gauci, the Director of Public Health, is busy packing his bags - in a few weeks' time he will be leaving for Stockholm to take up a senior post within the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

He will be the new deputy head of the centre's Surveillance and Communication Unit and sounds eager to start his new job in Scandinavia, saying that he looks forward to working with top experts about whom he used to read.

"I feel like an art lover who has been given a month to look around the Louvre. It is almost a childish enthusiasm. I have met some of them before, but actually working with them is very exciting," he said with a smile when interviewed at his office in hospital's Medical School.

His first job will be helping to create the first long-term strategy plan for Europe. He explained that the ECDC wants to pinpoint, as far as it possibly can, the coming health threats and where they originate. "It will involve modelling, devising worst case scenarios, trying to determine whether HIV will resurge and whether new strains will be coming out," he explained.

The ECDC works to help EU countries prevent and control disease outbreaks. Its preparedness and response department runs a 24-hour alert emergency system while the scientific advice department researches questions raised by member states and comes up with advice.

The ECDC also embarks on research needed to answer questions raised by the different countries, apart from running tests on medicines and giving specific advice on how to use them.

Dr Amato Gauci explained that the ECDC's surveillance and communication section collects the necessary data and information from the EU countries about infectious disease to enable the experts to follow trends and try to anticipate problems.

How does he think that Malta will benefit from his appointment?

Malta already benefits greatly from the ECDC, he replied. "As a member state Malta gets all the benefits of the advice, coordination and help in planning."

During the planning for pandemic influenza the ECDC not only helped Malta with its preparedness plan, but also tested its response during a Europe-wide trial.

A Maltese doctor working within the organisation would mean that local doctors have a point of contact. Most of the people working within the local public health were Dr Amato Gauci's former students since he coordinated the Masters course. "They will have easier access to insider technical information and I will be able to point them in the right direction."

The Medical Association of Malta has long been complaining about the number of doctors leaving our shores. Asked what attraction working abroad has for local doctors, Dr Amato Gauci answered that it was the conditions of work.

He pointed out that it takes a lot of effort to become a specialist and people working abroad have much better working conditions. He expressed the certainty that things would improve especially since the union was working on a new collective agreement.

"This will make a big difference, but I do not know whether it will stop the brain drain. I think it will be difficult to keep our graduates here because they have so many opportunities abroad."

Has he started practicing his Swedish yet? No, he answered with a smile. "But I have been informed from reliable sources that with a bit of effort in nine months I would be able to speak Swedish. Everyone speaks English, so I am not worried."

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