A "Natural Gift for Camaraderie"
In March, Hamer and colleagues watched the epicenter shift from Asia to “cases of people who had been exposed in Italy and Spain and other parts of Europe, traveling within Europe.”
As we now know, the rampage didn’t end there. COVID-19 traversed the globe in a matter of months, leaving over one million people dead and many more critically ill. And the fight continues. Kristina Angelo, D.O., M.P.H., an infectious
disease physician at Emory University School of Medicine and a medical epidemiologist with the CDC and GeoSentinel Surveillance Network, says the network is beginning to shift under Hamer’s direction to projects related to COVID-19, while keeping
existing research going as best they can. The relationships he’s developed over his decades of work in the field—bridging cultures and countries—have helped to move the organization forward even in this unsettled time.
of the things that makes him exceptional in this role is his collegiality and his ability to make friends wherever he goes,” Angelo says. “He has a natural gift for camaraderie.”
It would be an understatement to say that
this year has been busy for Hamer, a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine. He’s taken on dozens of media requests for interviews, has become a consultant to organizations
including Major League Soccer, and has played a key role in crafting Boston University’s plan to bring students back to campus safely in the fall.
“[The plan] includes testing every student on arrival and testing them twice
a week, mask use, de-densification of classrooms and enhanced air filtration systems and all sorts of things to try and make the campus safer and healthier,” he says.
Hamer has provided this same expertise to Major League Soccer,
an organization that includes 26 teams from the U.S. and Canada. Phyllis Kozarsky, M.D., special advisor to the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network and professor of infectious disease at Emory, worked with Hamer on a plan that has allowed the teams to
resume their season through extensive testing and isolation protocols.
“We spent a lot of time helping Major League Soccer figure out how to be successful,” she says. “And being able to play in a place like Orlando, which
was one of the hottest spots in the United States.”
Hamer and Kozarsky are now starting to create plans to safely allow other groups, like orchestras and bands, to resume tours. Kozarsky—a leader in the field of travel medicine
who co-founded the ISTM and has served in numerous roles since GeoSentinel’s founding in 1995—says Hamer brings to his leadership position an ability to see a challenge from multiple angles and bring the right resources to bear.
“Not only is he brilliant, but he can synthesize a lot of information, very, very quickly,” Kozarsky says. “And he is able to multitask, probably better than anyone I've ever known.”
For the past two-plus decades,
Hamer has been putting that multitasking ability to good use, with roughly 275 publications and four books to his name. In addition to his work with the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network over the past seven years, he has spearheaded more than 50 projects
in 20-plus countries, with a particular focus on improving neonatal and child health in addition to research on infectious disease.
Susan Coffin, M.D.’87, came to know Hamer as a research collaborator years after graduating medical
school with him. Back on campus in Burlington for a medical reunion, they struck up a conversation and found intersecting interests in child health. As a pediatrician with expertise in infectious disease at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
and a professor of pediatrics at Perelman School of Medicine, Coffin has a long track record of influential research on healthcare-associated infections as well as pediatric influenza; she has led infectious diseases prevention projects in Botswana,
Ghana, Vietnam, Egypt, Greece and China. Soon, Hamer and Coffin were headed to Zambia together, where Hamer had lived from 2011 to 2014 to lead a partnership between Boston University and a Zambian research group.
The project focused on
preventing bloodstream infection in neonatal intensive care units. As the proportion of women giving birth in healthcare facilities has increased in Zambia, so too has the need for protocols to prevent sepsis in vulnerable infants. Their research,
published in Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2019, showed that a bundle of interventions—including infection prevention and control training, text message reminders, use of an alcohol hand rub, environmental cleaning, and weekly bathing of babies
with a specific cleansing formula—effectively lowered hospital-associated mortality rates in neonates at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. Key to their work, says Coffin, was Hamer’s longstanding relationships with Zambian
healthcare professionals. The time he had spent in the country allowed the team to home in on interventions that made sense.
“[The research] has demonstrated that it is possible to make a measurable and sustained difference in both
infection and mortality outcomes,” she says. “And the interventions needed aren't necessarily fancy.”
Hamer and Coffin are now working on a project, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on
analyzing the genetic signature of one of two of the major pathogens causing infection in babies in the NICU in Lusaka. The goal is to determine whether there has been a chronic, sustained outbreak or whether new strains of the same bacteria continue
to be reintroduced, and to characterize the strains as an early step for vaccine development.
“Figuring this out speaks to the next level of interventions,” says Coffin. “We might act differently for a chronic outbreak
as compared to multiple reintroductions.”