Dr. Imane Jroundi focuses her research on improving knowledge of COVID measures in schools


Dr. Jroundi, from Morocco, holds a PhD by the Institute for Global Health (University of Barcelona, Spain), with fellowships of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI).

She is currently working at the University of Mohammed V in Rabat (Morocco) as associate professor of Public Health and was recently nominated as director of the Social Accountability unit at the School of Medicine and Pharmacy in Rabat. Her research at the  Institute of Health Carlos III (ISCIII) aims to improve knowledge about COVID measures in schools.

She is one of the 80 beneficiaries of the programme Science by Women, which, since 2014, with the collaboration of Spanish research centres of excellence, promotes, supports and gives visibility to African women scientists and researchers.

Her fellowship is sponsored by ENDESA.

What encouraged you to pursue a scientific career?

I was lucky to be born in the 70s in a family with an engineer father and a mother who was a teacher of French and Mathematics. My education was very focused on studying, specifically science and math subjects.

What made you incline towards your speciality?

My parents encouraged my sister, my brothers and myself to read, they regularly gave us different types of books. When I was 10-11 years old, and the HIV epidemic appeared, my brother was starting his medical studies so there were usually research papers or magazines about the virus on his desk or bed. I found it fascinating. From there, I made the decision to dedicate my career to research in public health. I saw it as a passion, like a vocation.

Have you felt supported throughout your career?

I always felt supported, exclusively and continuously, by my parents but, from the moment I started my career, I have found multiple obstacles, both structural and organizational. This happened because before the 2000s, “public health” was not recognized as a speciality area of knowledge that could lead professionals to an academic career. Nervetheless, the most violent obstacles that I have seen, were the cultural, especially the machism that I found in the workplaces.

In my family we have always been treated by my parents as equals, so my parent´s support was and still it is fundamental for my career.

Do you feel that being a woman has made it harder for you? In what way?

Absolutly, the development of a career that a man could achieve in 2 years, takes for a woman at least 10 years: it’s simple, as women we are never invited to the floor, nor exposed to situations where we can show our knoweledge and especially to learn how to build experience in our field. It is a circle, by depriving us on build experience; we are subsequently not able to access to “decision-making” positions.

 How do you think your work can help your research area?

I have been working since 2008 on the same topic: pediatric respiratory diseases which are the first cause of infant death in my country. This allowed me to document the mortality in Moroccan children, their etiologies, their risk factors and risk group. Progressively, I have documented the evaluation of the preventive and therapeutic measures taken and the actuation mechanisms.

This work approach allows the preparation of documents which can be used as evidence for decision-making, for teaching and for starting new relevant researches. This can be assimilated and replicated by students and young scientists too.

What do you expect from your stay in ISCIII ?

I have different expectations: first, I would like to generate relevant results from my research project and enhance it with an original article, a brief report and an oral communication.
Then, I will observe the working methods and dynamics in the CNE and, of course, I will love to create collaborations between Morocco or and Spain.

Have you had models of women scientists or others who have inspired or supported you?

In my research line, my model is Pr. Pedro Alonso, the actual Director of Malaria Program at the WHO. What he has achieved, in terms of research, and his way of working is very inspiring. His work and his progress in public health are exceptional, he allowed me to find my way.

I met him in Morocco, in a very critical moment of my career when all the doors were closed. I was worried for my future and depressed for not being able to flourish in the job I have always dreamed of. He believed in my capacities as a researcher and allowed me a new departure towards an international career.

What would be your advice to a girl who wants to pursue a career in STEM and more specifically in your speciality?

I propose five advices:
I. To look for a model of a successful scientific makes the path easier to design.
II. To identify and never lose sight of their own goals.
III. To focus on a very specific subject to work on, using your own resources. If the situation does not make it possible, to collaborate with others.
IV. Always strive for excellence, even if the professional entourage encourages mediocrity. This is the only way to be prepared and ready to catch the opportunities to emerge.
V. To persevere regardless of anything bad they may encounter in their path.

How do you see the current coronavirus situation in general and especially in Africa and in your country?

I see it as a period of extreme violence and incoherence, also as a result of the dark side of the globalization that exacerbated the inequalities, injustices between countries and between different social strata. The cultural specificities have been stifled, we put forward a model of global management, which cannot be replicated everywhere. We missed the opportunity to integrate the social determinants health aspects to manage the pandemic and we neglected the use of the public health ethic as a framework for reflection; to involve anthropologists and sociologists in the management of the crisis and left the communication controlled by social networks. The result is there.

Also by relying on the US model, and on the management of the pandemic during the first months and the slaughter that followed, I wondered about the correct definition of a rich country; In fact a wealthy country, is its ability to deploy legal, financial and managerial mechanisms at the right time to ensure equity of access to care and decent treatment for all citizens and to encourage them to solidarity.

In Morocco, I think we did it well. The elements in which Morocco has distinguished itself from other countries and which deserve to be highlighted are: at the start of the pandemic, an extremely important aspects of public health ethic were mobilized, these principles are the reciprocity and solidarity (guaranteed to those confined who could no longer have a salary to meet the needs of their families) and we put the emphasis on the common good, a values associated with public health purposes (Induce the Moroccan citizens to adhere to social distancing measures, wearing the mask and to do the vaccin program). On another hand, we participated in the clinical trials of the sinopharm vaccine development, which help to the organization of the vaccination campaign.

 What are your forecasts?

My forecast is to continue working on my research axis and produce more knowledge to be able to teach it to my students. Also, I will continue looking for other international experiences because on my opinion, is the unique possibility to continue learning and building network.
Another aspect of my work in Morocco is to further strengthen the teaching of public health ethics as a fundamental discipline in the post-covid era. Unfortunately, this universal tool for optimal decision making is not really used around the world.

Do you think the scientific community is being effective in dealing with this crisis ?

The drama of this pandemic is that it is a pandemic! The politicians were in a comfortable situation to “copy and paste” of what was happening elsewhere, and this was from the beginning the biggest mistake. From there, you will understand that the scientists who have a different or critical point of view of what it was done elsewhere, or suggest contextualized control measures, were not heard; especially if they come from an emerging country and criticize the way of making of a rich country.
Once again, I would like to highlight that there was a missed opportunity to invite to the discussion table sociologists, antropologists, historians, economists, ethicists and philosophers and to have a holistic understanding of the problem. That could have anticipated certain mistakes in the confused messages sent to the general population during the pandemic.

Has it been a challenge for them?

Of course, the lack of time to understand what was going on, to verify the data, to answer immediately to questions that did not have a definitive answer. And the most unusual part was to report to politicians and to the general public, because they are not used to address; normally our main audience are researchers and students. All this has created a favorable ground to make them very vulnerable.
Additionally, a specific aspect in “public health” is to describe and analyze data with a margin of error, but in this situation the public preferred dichotomous answers: yes or no, and that, even under threat, a real researcher would never say.

Do you think that the different vaccines that exist are the solution?

More than the availability of vaccines or their theoretical efficacy, the key is the vaccination coverage rate in each country, region and continent. If we do not reach it, the virus will not be defeated. For me, this is the immediate challenge to achieve.

Once this is goal will be achieved, we can concentrate on different important elements that are relayed in the longer term actions and will depend of the capacities of each country.

For me the work fields of the governments, scientists and teachers are to strengthen ethics like a principle of governance and to strengthen the management of social life, taking care of their impacts on public health.

It is necessary to have researchers and experts in urban planning on important job positions, because his work is a key for the development and management of the town´ s infrastructure, It is the hard core of the epidemic management, the ancient Arab and Roman civilizations practiced and mastered it for several centuries!

Do you think there will be a before and after marked as a result of the pandemic?

Of course, and I hope it’s for the best.
Any case, I will continue to insist in my courses on ethical aspects of public health and on the determinants of health by using the global pandemic management as a case of study. I hope that each country is aware that they must invest to develop self-sufficiency mechanisms in health products and health infrastructure that guarantee quality and equitable access to their community members and to their visitors or guests.

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