Name: Irina Dontsenko
Background: Medical Doctor
Title: Head of Bureau of Epidemiological Preparedness
Organization: Estonian Health Board
Specialization: Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases
Hobby: Music, books, swimming
What are your responsibilities at the Estonian Health Board?
I am the head of the Bureau of Epidemiological Preparedness in the Department of Monitoring and Control over Infectious Diseases. The bureau is mainly responsible for analysis of the current epidemiological situation, investigation of outbreaks and implementation of recommendations provided by the International Medical Sanitary Rules. It also controls various sanitary and quarantine measures taken at the borders and in the transport system, and develops new recommendations and guidelines. A new area of activity introduced by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is epidemic intelligence. In the bureau I am involved in daily monitoring and analysis of information received from the mass media in Estonia, websites of healthcare institutions in neighbouring countries as well as CDC, ECDC, ProMED and other organizations.
What motivated you to devote yourself to infectious disease epidemiology?
Epidemiology of infectious diseases is very interesting because, although a definition of epidemiological process is already given in every detail and rules of development are formulated for various infectious diseases, there are still no universal solutions in this area. Thus, epidemiology can be viewed not only as science but also as a creative activity that requires an individual approach to every particular case. Besides, it is very important to share experiences and information with epidemiologists in other countries.
Which of your professional achievements brings you the most satisfaction?
I derive the greatest satisfaction from a successfully investigated outbreak when we manage to define a source and take the necessary measures in due time so as to prevent further spread of a pathogen and interrupt the chain of transmission. The most interesting and resonant outbreaks were the outbreak of tick-borne encephalitis in 2005 and the outbreak of measles in 2006. The TBE outbreak was caused by non-pasteurized goat milk consumed at the fair held at a trade centre in the capital of the country. The milk was checked and the pathogen was found. In 2006 considerable growth in the incidence of measles was registered in many countries of Europe. The pandemic of А/H1N1 influenza in 2009-2010 was of course a great challenge especially from the viewpoint of multi-sectoral collaboration and interaction with mass media.
What was your most difficult professional moment?
Several years ago the Health Protection Inspection, which existed at that time, was subject to an administrative reform. The staff was reduced and many epidemiologists were dismissed. This provoked much concern because the possibility to successfully implement duties at the local level was strongly doubted. Fortunately, our epidemiologists managed to optimize their work rather effectively so that by the eof the year all necessary tasks had been successfully accomplished. It seems to me that in our country epidemiologists form a real family that succeeds in performing the duties. This is very important.
What do you think are the most important achievements in infectious disease epidemiology so far?
In order to be successful and to get good results, it is necessary to stay up-to-date and to use the most modern methods. For example, it is essential to implement an electronic registration system of infectious diseases that can be accessed by epidemiologists as well as by doctors and laboratories, to use contemporary statistic methods for more reliable and comprehensive investigations of outbreaks and also to develop new effective vaccines.
How did you start collaborating in the EpiNorth project?
In 2004 I took part in the EpiTrain courses for the first time. Since then I have tried not to miss a single module. I also participated in the organization of these courses that have been held twice in Tallinn.
What do you find the most interesting aspect of the EpiNorth project?
The bilingual site of the project is very interesting and helpful. The contents provide up-to-date epidemiological information. I often use the statistical data from the EpiNorth website in my lectures and presentations. And I always recommend this website to my colleagues.
What do you consider the most important achievement of the EpiNorth project?
The project gives us a valuable opportunity to communicate with epidemiologists from more than ten countries including Russia. We have come to know each other and become real friends so that we can ask each other for help and advice at any time. We have formed a sort of epidemiological community.
What is your favourite book and why?
One of the most helpful books in my profession is “Modern Infectious Disease Epidemiology” by Johan Giesecke. It is written by a real professional yet, at the same time, it is easy to understand and very interesting. It is also noteworthy that there is a good Russian translation of this book.
Aside from your professional career, what is your greatest ambition in life?
All my life my greatest ambition has been to try and treat people the way I want to be treated myself.
What would be your wishes for the younger colleagues in the field of epidemiology?
I recommend that they not be afraid of difficulties and do not to hesitate to ask colleagues for advice. They should acquire experience in various spheres of infectious disease epidemiology and public health care on the whole. It is also very important to participate in investigations and studies, and to publish results. I would also remind my younger colleagues to continue studying during their entire professional career.