As president and CEO of Delaware Health Sciences Alliance, an organization that includes the major health systems and research universities in the Delaware Valley, Dr. Omar Khan, MD ’03, is at the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. He’s been working with his team to ramp up testing and treatment, source personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, and keep the community informed, all while continuing to see patients himself as a family medicine physician.
With the situation changing every day, sometimes minute-by-minute, he’s buoyed by the cooperation and sense of purpose he sees in the midst of an intense and unpredictable situation.
“I feel fortunate to be able to serve communities in need,” he says. “I’m also grateful to work with exceptional people, many of whom work tirelessly behind the scenes and often don’t get the credit they deserve.”
This isn’t the first time Khan has been in the thick of a battle against a global infectious disease. In 2006, he traveled through rural Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh as part of a World Health Organization polio eradication team. They traversed the countryside with one goal: vaccinate every child they could find. Equipped with maps down to the household level, they were hard at work when an 8.6 magnitude earthquake struck, devastating the region and forcing the team to adapt to new circumstances. It’s an experience that’s informed Khan’s work ever since, as a physician, a global health expert and healthcare leader.
“You have to be willing to change the paradigm and adapt rapidly,” he says.
Khan, who also holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, has co-authored several books on global health and infectious disease, including The End of Polio with Tim Brookes, a Vermont resident and frequent contributor to VPR and other national publications. Behind the Mask, also authored by Brookes, traces the SARS outbreak of the early 2000s, a disease caused by a virus closely related to the one fueling the current COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, Khan served as principal editor of Control of Communicable Diseases: Clinical Practice, partnered with his longtime colleague Dr. David Heymann, who oversaw polio and SARS responses while at the WHO. Published this February by APHA Press, an imprint of the American Public Health Association, it’s a companion to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, a go-to resource for physicians that has been in print for over 100 years.
After growing up in Delaware and completing medical school and family medicine residency in Vermont, Khan considers both states home. Now with COVID-19 bearing down on the world, he sees hope in a place like Vermont, where “folks coming together to solve a problem” is part of the fabric of life.
“A small state and tight-knit community have a lot to offer the rest of the world,” he says. “Global health is local health.”