Fulbright Impact in the Field: Combating COVID-19


Q&A with Dr. Ronald Law, 2019 Fulbright Visiting Scholar from the Philippines

Dr. Ronald Law, chief of the Preparedness Division, in the Health Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health in the Philippines, explains how his Fulbright experience directly impacts his work during the COVID-19 pandemic; what you can do to support public health; and describes his hopes for international cooperation in future public health preparedness.


1.    Tell us a little about your path to Fulbright. Who or what inspired you to apply?
The prospect of advancing my career, enhancing my technical know-how, and working with other experts from the U.S. and other countries inspired me to apply.


2.    What is your discipline/field of research? What does a typical work day look like for you?
I’m in the public health field, focused on health emergency and disaster risk management. My field of research is health security. When there is no current emergency, I oversee work on policies, plans, programs, trainings, and research on health emergency and disaster risk management. My time is spent speaking or acting as a resource, locally or abroad; attending important meetings; coordinating the work of our team; and writing policies and technical output. If there’s an active emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic response, I monitor events and coordinate necessary responses in our operations center, or help carry out response interventions in the field. Some days, I get to teach or lecture at universities to share my knowledge and insights with students.


Caption: Dr. Law at his host institution, University of Washington-Seattle


3.    What advice would you give to Fulbrighters continuing their research during a global health emergency? 
Many issues and challenges are brought about by the pandemic, chief of which is the general public’s health and safety. Now more than ever, research that benefits the current and future response to COVID-19, other global infectious diseases, and health security threats, should be encouraged and supported. I would advise Fulbrighters to use this as an opportunity to create and innovate—to translate their expertise and research into something that contributes to science, policy, and platforms that can help create an environment of mutual understanding and support among nations.


4.    What is health security? How does your Fulbright research inform your current work during a global health emergency?
Health security is a field that deals with the emergence of health issues that threaten the well-being of populations. In my line of work, it ranges from addressing the impacts of natural disasters, climate change, conflict, and emerging global infectious diseases, best exemplified by COVID-19. Health security entails building capacity at national and global levels, because in an interconnected world, diseases like COVID-19 transcend boundaries. With enhancing health security, it is also imperative to build community resilience by improving preparedness and emergency management systems, strengthening traditional public health, and focusing on primary health care.

My Fulbright research allows me to frame the current crisis objectively. Using a health security lens, I can provide sound technical recommendations and craft evidence-based strategies that form part of our response plan. With some colleagues, I was able to put forward policy and technical recommendations that informed major decisions, including the implementation of a lockdown, establishment of dedicated COVID-19 referral hospitals, setting up quarantine facilities, and ramping up of testing capacities among others. From my well-rounded exposure in the United States, I developed unique insights that allowed me to serve as a reputable speaker on the topic as an academic and a practitioner. Fulbright has also bolstered my credibility.


Caption: Dr. Law interviewed as a medical expert on Filipino media


5.    How can your research findings inform or improve public policy on health emergencies?
My research findings identify U.S.-based practices that can be replicated in our region and country.  Specifically, my research highlights the importance of building coalitions, conducting research, and forging interdisciplinary collaboration. My research also raised challenges, such as awareness and prioritization of key issues, coordination of initiatives within and outside the health sector, human resources, and approaches to working with marginalized groups. Equally important, I identified opportunities for collaboration through projects, capacity building, and research that my country and region can benefit from.


6.    What is the importance of international collaboration in scientific and health-related fields?
Science, medicine, and public health represent important dimensions of human development that need to be addressed and advanced further. Despite the rapid pace of technological advances, emerging public health threats are now multi-faceted and more complex, and require the response of many experts in different fields and the collaboration of different sectors, including: governments, civil society, academia, and other organizations. International collaboration facilitates joint solutions through the exchange of insights, good practices, and the mobilization of resources.



Caption: Dr. Law with other ASEAN Scholars in Washington, D.C.


7.    What is one action people can take to slow the spread of the coronavirus?
One action that people can take is to absorb as much credible information as they can, in order to protect themselves, their families, communities, and countries from the virus. Staying home, physical distancing, practicing handwashing and respiratory etiquette, use of masks and other forms of personal protection, following the advice of health authorities—these can go a long way in achieving health security for all.


Caption: Dr. Law in Washington, D.C. during his Fulbright.