Smile Politely

A poet’s mission to tackle the Kyasanur Forest Disease

Once upon a time, a young girl wanted to be a magician and an actress. She would entertain herself and others. Soon after, she wanted to become a paleontologist, as she loves dinosaurs. But, one day, someone in her family fell sick and thus drove her to curiosity: Why do people fall sick? Now, Sulagna Chakraborty is on a mission; a mission to understand infectious diseases.

Chakraborty’s primary goal is to understand infectious disease in order to educate public health professionals on how to contain outbreaks to the fewest possible cases, so she is working on her Ph.D. in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology. Epidemiology is a branch of medicine that studies the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases. The disease she is currently studying is a vector borne disease called Kyasanur Forest Disease. This disease has so far only been seen in India, and is a highly infectious disease that affects both humans and monkeys.

Chakraborty has been working on trying to build a complete picture of all the disease cases from its point of discovery in 1957 to the present. This whole process of conducting a retrospective data collection effort is long and laborious, but Chakraborty keeps her end goal in mind. As she combs through material from everywhere, part of her feels an excitement of being the pioneer to truly map out this disease. She feels like Indiana Jones, putting together the pieces of a puzzle as she gathers increasing amounts of information for her case. Regarding KFD, she is concerned with the rate at which it is expanding every year. Because it is an emerging disease of concern, she wants to understand and tackle the spread before it becomes an insurmountable problem.  Her Ph.D. research with KFD is still in the exploratory phase, but she hopes to get some experience with field work soon.

Currently, she is trying to intersect the work of the One Health Initiative with infectious disease epidemiology. The One Health Initiative is a movement to forge co-equal, all inclusive collaborations between physicians, osteopathic physicians, veterinarians, dentists, nurses, and other scientific-health and environmentally related disciplines, including the American Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, American Association of Public Health Physicians, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. National Environmental Health Association (NEHA). Additionally, more than 900 prominent scientists, physicians and veterinarians worldwide have endorsed the initiative.

Chakraborty describes herself as quirky, industrious, sensitive, and ambitious. Her pet peeve about being a scientist is encountering people who are unwilling to share data and knowledge, even if it can be mutually beneficial. She also questions how the amount of research funding available truly dictates how far a scientist can go. Her favorite thing about being a scientist is that she is constantly updating herself with all the scientific happenings not just in her field of Community Health, but in other allied areas. It makes her appreciate everything in life. Also, being a scientist allows her to develop clear and logical thinking tactics to be able to converse on different topics with other people and perspectives to shape her knowledge. In the future, she wants to be involved in collaborative research initiatives including infectious diseases, policy research, and global health. She wants to contribute to applicable research. As is the healthcare dream of many countries, she wants to see a healthcare system that can be accessed by people from all backgrounds in an effective and affordable format.

By day, she may be a scientist, but she is also an active member of the East Central Illinois Bengali Association (ECIBA). Just last year, she performed as the Princess of Clubs for a dance-drama, Tasher Desh, written by Rabindranath Tagore. Often times on campus, she celebrates the Indian festivals such as Diwali (festival of lights) and Holi (festival of colors) to keep in touch with her roots and traditions. During her down-time, she also enjoys reading articles from the British medical journal, Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and Neglected Tropical Diseases. She particularly likes newsletters and disease reporting bulletins  from varied scientific fields. She also loves writing poetry in English and Hindi languages, and aspires to be fluent in writing in Bengali and French someday. I’ll wrap up this article by sharing some of her work:

Unsaid Desires

There are some things that one never vocalizes,
Things you really want, but do not explicitly express them.
It’s in the way your heart beats, the way your mind revolves around it;
While you try your best for someone to notice, before it totally consumes you.
It could be appreciation, a gift you’re waiting for, somebody’s love
or just acknowledgement of the importance of your existence.
It is hidden in the little quotidian things –
the soft disappointed sighs, the yearning glance,
the wetness of the tears spilled onto pillows and
that glint of hopeful expression that quickly disappears!
You, her, him, and I; we have all been there and maybe are feeling it this very minute.
As humans our claim to fame is higher intelligence and emotional quotient,
but, are we really being emotionally available for people close to us?
That’s a question I leave you to ponder,
but, maybe we can try to be more aware; of not everyone,
at the very least – the ones in our inner circle of life.
Take this opportunity to read your people, their minds and their body language closely,
sometimes all they might want is just a simple gesture on your part.
A gesture that could infinitely lift somebody’s day or give them a good memory.
Let’s make the one life we have beautiful for us and those around us…


Kyasanur Forest Disease image taken from the CDC website. Cover photo from Facebook.

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