Profile on: Dr Mika Kawano
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I was born in Japan and grew up there, except five years in Malaysia. My father worked in a private industry – there were no medical doctors in my family.
When I was in the Ministry of Health we discussed which university to do postgraduate study. I was told that the American approach is theory-oriented and the British approach is problem-oriented. I prefer the British approach.
I had been working in WHO for five years in the area of infectious diseases. It was very important to have deep and updated knowledge. All of the degree modules were relevant – they helped me to understand more advanced issues like how you create vaccines or how a virus adapts itself to a new environment. There were lots of things that I didn’t quite understand in the meetings in WHO. Going through all of the modules, now I understand.
The first challenge was that I had been educated in Japanese. In the first year, when I was doing the exam, I thought I was fully prepared. Then I realised that I had the key words in English, but I couldn’t explain it in English. I didn’t have the technical terminology for verbs in English. So I had to change the way I studied to prepare for the exam.
I need to study under pressure. Juggling study with work gave me lots of excuses not to do it. I was working on a tsunami project in Sri Lanka. I was there for three weeks, then I came back to Geneva, and then I’d go back to Sri Lanka for three weeks again. Life was very unpredictable, and that made it difficult. I used all the leave I had for study, but I still wasn’t ready for the exam. So I skipped one year.
After the first four compulsory modules I picked nine optional modules. In those days I was working in geographical information systems (GIS), so I took environmental health – which I thought had lots of potentials for applying GIS – and nutrition, because I was interested in the relationship between nutrition and infectious diseases, such as malaria. It’s important to have that knowledge when we discuss policies for infectious diseases control in developing countries settings.
I’m part of an international health regulation team and have been heavily involved with H1N1 influenza [swine flu]. Having an MSc in Infectious Diseases gives me the confidence that I have the basic knowledge to understand all aspects of infectious disease control. My current area of work is more to do with coordination than any scientific aspects of influenza pandemic response, but still it’s important to understand what’s happening – I have the basic knowledge to grasp it in a short period of time. That helps a lot. I’m proud to be part of WHO. As long as I can make a contribution, that’s fine.
One day I want to play Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 with an orchestra. That would be great.