“My passion in public health is to study and mitigate contagious diseases transmitted by fluids and vectors in vulnerable and minority groups,” said Diego Samot-Bidot, a research fellow in the USF College of Public Health’s Department of Global Health.
He spoke at a Summer Lunch-N-Learn sponsored by the Public Health Student Association (PHSA) and the Department of Global Health to discuss arboviruses in Puerto Rico, with an emphasis on the current threat of Zika virus for pregnant women and other adults.
Samot-Bidot earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Puerto Rico and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in epidemiology at Ponce Health Sciences University.
During the first year of his master’s degree, he volunteered as a researcher interviewing and making a health profile of Juana Diaz, Ponce.
“I had the great opportunity to work as a volunteer in the health department of Puerto Rico during the outbreak of Zika, being this is a public health emergency,” he said. “During that period I was making phone calls to pregnant women to offer free fumigation services provided by the CDC and providing information about methods of prevention against Zika virus.”
Samot-Bidot later had the chance to do his field experience with the Department of Global Health assisting the research work of Drs. Izurieta and Reina-Ortiz, focusing on assessing the burden of, as well as the risk factors for, acquiring HIV among at-risk and vulnerable populations in Ecuador.
“His research interests were a perfect match. Diego’s presentation on Zika in Puerto Rico was not only timely but important given the nature of the disease and the dire consequences it may have for infected mother-child dyads,” said Dr. Reina-Ortiz. “Diego has been collaborating with us in analyzing some data on HIV among vulnerable, at-risk populations in Ecuador. Since Zika has been shown to also be transmitted through sexual contacts, there might be potential to learn something from these studies which might help us better plan for research interventions to prevent Zika in Ecuador, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.”
Samot-Bidot said the COPH allowed him to grow as a student of public health and opened doors in his professional career.
“This experience was very rewarding and enjoyable,” he said. “I had the opportunity to prepare a presentation of Zika and other arboviruses in Puerto Rico at a conference promoted by the Public Health Student Association and the Global Health department, where I also had the opportunity to be interviewed by Fox News.”
As a future epidemiologist he said he will be able to make a difference by working with marginalized and discriminated populations, such as the homeless and the LGBT community, because of the high risk and susceptibility of contagious disease within those groups.
“It inspires me to know that I am part of a country that cares about developing coherent and focused plans to counteract the detrimental effects of diseases,” he said.
To learn more about joining the PHSA, visit their website.
Story by Tabassum Tasnim, USF College of Public Health