Posted by on October 02, 2014 in Blog

By Kristyn Acho
Fall Intern, 2014

On Monday evening, Dr. Rana Hajjeh, Director of the Division of Bacterial Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, received the 2014 Federal Employee of the Year prize, one of the highest honors in public service.

The award, which is presented by the Partnership for Public Service, recognizes a federal employee each year for their noteworthy involvement in issues related to international affairs and national security.

Dr. Hajjeh received this honor for directing an international campaign to persuade developing countries to use a vaccine to fight bacterial meningitis and pneumonia. The initiative is expected to save the lives of 7 million children by 2020.

In 2004, the CDC reported that Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) was “the leading cause of bacterial meningitis deaths and the second leading cause of bacterial pneumonia deaths worldwide and [accounted] for approximately 400,000 deaths of children each year.” These deaths could have been prevented through Hib conjugate vaccines. In the United States, the vaccines were introduced into the immunization program for infants in 1990. Following the United States’ lead, most industrialized countries also introduced these vaccines. However, in portions of Africa and Asia, the use of these vaccines was limited due to poverty.

Dr. Hajjeh worked tirelessly for nine years to convince 60 countries to employ the vaccine.

Born in Lebanon, Dr. Hajjeh studied medicine at the American University of Beirut. She completed her residency in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Hajjeh became passionate about public health while training at the CDC as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer.

“With clinical medicine you have a patient, you treat them, they improve, and it’s a relatively instant reward. But in public health, you have to be patient, because the reward involves providing services to a large group of people and it takes time,” she told the Partnership for Public Service. “We all go into medicine thinking we will save lives, but you really do it on a large scale when you are working on interventions at the population level—especially in many of the developing countries.”

A 21-year employee of the federal government, Dr. Hajjeh will continue to help foundations and world health groups to implement other life-altering vaccines in developing nations.

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