Canada: Agnesian Dr.Dorothy Rego bags prestigious CCVI Yeoman Service Award 2022
Toronto, Oct 15: Perhaps October 01, 2022, turned out to be a red-letter-day for the Mangalorean Community in Canada when Canada’s Prime Minister thanked Dr.Dorothy Rego B.Sc., M.Sc., PhD, MPH in his letter and when she received a prestigious Yeomen Service Award, 2022 from the Canadian Canara Vision Inc (CCVI) in recognition of her remarkable contribution in the field of Scientific Research, Public Health and Social Science in India, Africa, and Canada.
Dr. Dorothy Rego, an immunologist, microbiologist, and public health professional has worked in the field of science for over 15 years. Enormously passionate about science, Dr. Rego is especially committed to focusing on the needs and health of others and the most vulnerable.
Originally from Gurpur-Kaikamba in the suburbs of Mangalore, she currently resides in Brampton with her husband, Ronald Rego and two children, Seneca and Roysten. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Botany, Zoology and Chemistry from St. Agnes College, Mangalore in 1991 and Master of Science in Microbiology from Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore in 1994. Dorothy also successfully completed her Master’s cum Doctorate (PhD) in Microbiology/Immunology from the University of Ottawa in 2008 and MPH (Master of Public Health) from the University of Guelph in 2017.
Dr. Rego’s areas of expertise includes disease surveillance, vaccine implementation, gender equality, tobacco control, women’s empowerment, maternal child health, cancer research, HIV prevention, food fortification, anaemia reduction and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. She has 7 peer reviewed publications in highly influential American, British, and Indian journals and an impressive 5 scientific reports and 21abstracts published to add to her already remarkable portfolio. As a scientific researcher, she has worked for Health Canada, Peel Public Health, Global Affairs of Canada, and the Gates Foundation.
Dr. Rego was part of the leadership team of Peel Public Health’s response to COVID-19 pandemic. She played a crucial role in conducting high quality synthesis of evidence which focused on reviewing the existing evidence and disseminating the evidence to decision makers in the implementation of public health interventions and policies.
Pre-pandemic, Dr. Rego worked with WHO (World Health Organization) where she conducted a comprehensive review addressing policy recommendations for anaemia reduction strategies among women of reproduction age in low- and middle-income countries at a global level. Deployed to Africa for HIV work, she took great pride in working closely with the Kenyan Ministry of Health in implementing HIV self testing program among homosexual men to enhance timely diagnosis of HIV and linkage to care.
Prior to her migration to Canada, Dr. Rego worked for reputed institutions in India such as CMC Vellore and JIPMER Hospital in Pondicherry. Her work with children under 10yrs for a vaccine implementation study at JIPMER Hospital was the impetus for her increasing passion in public health.
An amazing and highly intellectual personality like Dr.Dorothy Rego does not need any further introduction. After the Award ceremony, I had the unique opportunity to toss a few questions at her as the representative of Daijiworld.com. Excerpts from the interview:
Q. On behalf of DWMN, I am privileged to interact with you. Tell me how it feels to bag a prestigious Award from a renowned non-profit organization like CCVI for your remarkable contribution to the field of Scientific Research, Public Health, and Social Science.
A: First and the foremost, I thank God for blessing me with wisdom, humility, and grace. These blessings have enabled me to scale mountains and face challenges. I also thank the CCVI for recognizing my work and bestowing me with the Yeomen Service Award. I am humbled and deeply appreciative of this prestigious award. I admit that my contributions to the field of Scientific Research, Public health and Social Science are still on a small scale; however, I view the award as a way forward to do and be more. This recognition has spurred and inspired me to learn and implement more in my fields of expertise.
Q. Can you please tell us something about your parents, siblings, and your childhood days in the picturesque town Gurpur-Kaikamba in Mangalore, India?
A:. I was raised by my father, late Dominic R. J. D’Lima. My grandmother, late Lucy D’Lima along with my paternal aunt, Leena D’Lima gave me an amazing childhood. I have only one younger sibling, Don John D’Lima who is an Advocate in Mumbai. My weekend nature walks in the lush greenery of Kaikamba along with my dad in the picturesque Gurpur aroused my curiosity about all things related to science. I still cherish the joys of playing some country games like lagory, kutti donne, jibli and mane aata along with 4 other kids in the neighborhood. It was an unforgettable childhood filled with setbacks, love, adventure, mystery, tragedy, loss, and joy.
Q. Can you please tell us something about your early schooling?
A. My journey into my professional development began from the century old Pompei higher primary school in Gurpur under the leadership of Late Sr.Patricia. With great pride, I say that I learnt my first alphabets in this Kannada medium school. With immense gratitude, I mention that Sr.Laetita Bath from the Bethany congregation held my tiny hand and hovered it around the cement doodle to make the correct impression of my first Kannada alphabet. My heartfelt appreciation to Sr.Laetita Bath for her dedication and patience. From 1976 to 1983, I made a lifetime of memories from throwing stones at mango trees, picking Sapodilla aka chikoo’s during recess, chasing snakes in the lush green landscape, drawing well water using a bucket and rope to care for school garden and shedding tears to ‘Punya Koti’ narrative by Lucy teacher. An even more historic memory was walking as a class to meet Mother Teresa at Rosa Mystica grounds in 1980. I was awed by that meeting and inspired by Mother Teresa’s selfless work to do the same in my capacity and give back to the community and people amongst who I grew up. Among all, I did not want to attend classes. My beloved Lucy teacher would narrate this well to the readers in this platform. My teachers (the two Jacintha’s, Lucy, Gracy, Jerry, Jayanthi, Sr.Jonett, Sr.Shanthi, Sr.Selma, Late Stella and Late Natalia,) put heart and soul in imbibing me with wisdom and knowledge. Even though this school’s structure was in a dilapidated condition in the mid 70’s, it did not deter me in carving a niche in building my career.
My next journey began in the Bethany run Rosa Mystica High School (RMHS) in Gurpur under the leadership of Late Sr.Mediatrice. RMHS gave me an outstanding education with the best teachers, and they were: Sukanya, Leena, Agatha, Josephine, Yuvaraja, Sunder, Shabaraya, Felix, Shreedhar, Sr.Wilma, Sr.Helmina, Sr.Afflicta, Sr.Metilda, Late Sr.Olivia and Late Sr.Mediatrice. My science teachers inspired me with their extra ordinary teaching skills in Pythagoras Theorem derivation and taxonomical classifications which helped me to further refine my passion to progress in the field of biological sciences.
Q. Can you please tell me how your Pre-University / University studies at India’s renowned St. Agnes Institutions helped you to achieve the success that you are enjoying today?
A:. In 1986, I entered the gates of St. Agnes College as a PUC student in the science stream with absolutely zero English speaking skills. St. Agnes College under the leadership of Sr.Aloysius welcomed me with open arms, making me feel like her own as I came from a background different from most English-speaking students. St. Agnes college was so open, welcoming, and reassuring that soon after my first term, I forgot about the past and plunged into new challenges. Over the next 5 years, I grew up intellectually both in wisdom and knowledge. I made friends who remain close to my heart today. I met teachers who shaped me in many ways, and as friendly and accommodating as they were, they always had best the interests for me. I bow with respect to all the signatures of my teachers (Maria, Noeline, Usha Nalini, Leela, Sr. Beatrice, Saramma, Bhasker, Nagaveni, Late Kamala Devi, Sr. Prem, Leo, Prema, Ronald, Saraswathi, and Late Mohan) imprinted on my lab records which I call my personal treasures. These lab records are maintained in mint condition in my ancestral home. The memories of my education such as the dissection tables of Zoology, the color reactions in chemistry labs, the Botany herbariums followed by robust record work where I tried to grab as many experiences and opportunities as I could are still fresh in my mind. The gallery style classrooms, where curriculum was intense, and marks were earned not handed out. It was here that I was introduced to the art and science of Biology which later metamorphosed me into a microbiologist, immunologist and public health professional with several degrees, awards, and accomplishments with exciting work experiences.
Q. Say something about your family and what motivated you to upgrade your educational credentials in Canada? Did you receive any inspiration from anyone or did anyone play a key role in your professional development?
A:.My husband Ronald Rego migrated to Canada in 1996 from Dubai in search of greener pastures. I married Ronald in 1998 and joined him later that year in Canada. When we got married, it was my plan to upgrade my educational credentials. We are blessed with two children, 19-year-old daughter, Seneca and 16-year-old son, Roysten. Both children were born in Ottawa and these children were products of my graduate school in addition to my thesis. We currently reside in Brampton.
In my professional development, I credit my dad as being my single greatest influencer followed by my husband. They are both my hero’s. My dad had only my best interest at heart. While growing up I had too many why questions to my dad, most of them were related to science. He was like an encyclopedia for me in an era when technology was absolutely zero. My dad reiterated to me several times what it meant to be a woman in the society and the vulnerability associated with being a woman. My dad insisted that women needed to be empowered with highest level education, dream an exciting career, and reach out to others.
My other hero stepped into my life after marriage but when I expressed my desire to upgrade my educational credentials, my husband whole heartedly not only encouraged and supported me but also accepted me as his student wife. He worked extremely hard to make ends meet while I took my backpack and went to the University as a student. In the late 90’s to early 00’s, there were not many options to specialize in public health in Canada, therefore I was left with specializing in basic sciences with an M.Sc./Ph.D in Microbiology/Immunology from the University of Ottawa. When Canada opened doors for public health in 2003 after the SARS crisis, I was already halfway through my M.Sc./Ph.D program and I did not want to make a detour to public health. A few years later, it was a turning point in my life, which I call falling in love but with global public health. I decided to make 3-point turn into international public health and wanted another degree, Master’s in Public Health. When I expressed my desire, my husband whole heartedly supported me again. I became his student wife again in my mid 40’s. I am indebted to these two men and will forever be grateful to their selfless love and support.
Q. Because of your outstanding intellectual & service-oriented qualities, we look up to you as the most successful contributor in the field of Scientific Research, Public Health, and Social Science in India, Africa, and Canada. Could you tell us the secret behind your success?
A: This entire journey is akin to sailing through a storm and finally surviving the storm to reap the fruits in different continents. There have been turbulent times in this entire journey, but I persevered through all the challenges and triumphed. If I reflect on the journey, I can’t answer how I managed to endure and conquer. Sometimes, I worked too hard and sacrificed my sleep. There were times I stood up to myself to alter the challenges into enriching, rewarding and gratifying experiences. I always believed in myself and had immense confidence in my abilities. Overall, I was vibrant, full of energy, determined with a strong will power, courageous, focused, and confident. These qualities are the secrets behind my success.
Q. Dr. Rego you were part of the leadership team of Canada’s Peel Public Health’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Could you please tell us what was your role in the implementation of public health interventions?
A: COVID-19 pandemic was a rapidly evolving science and the public health professionals must always be current with science to deliver best interventions for the betterment of the community. It was quite a challenge for us. In the first phase of the pandemic, my role included genomic surveillance to conduct a landscape analysis to identify the emerging variants of concerns circulating in the community. I worked extremely hard with 12hr rotational shifts consistently to keep the Peel community safe. I quickly transitioned to Mass vaccination Program (MVP) in phase 2 of the pandemic. In MVP, I provided high quality synthesis of evidence which focused on reviewing the existing evidence and disseminating the evidence to decision makers in the implementation of public health interventions and policies. My efforts on identifying knowledge gaps in evidence led to the prioritization of COVID-19 vaccine to high-risk occupational groups in some settings in the Peel region. Also, I provided evidence-based guidance documents to the process management team which facilitated the smooth execution of mass vaccinations in the Peel region. In addition, I closely monitored the reported Adverse Effects Following Immunization (AEFI) that occurred from COVID-19 vaccination and reported these incidents to the regulatory bodies for further follow up.
Q: I learned from various media reports about your unique contribution to the field of Public Health and Social Science in India, Africa, and Canada. Can you please share some of them with a few details?
A: I will use one each example from India, Africa, and Canada to answer this question.
In 1995, I started a very challenging job at the JIPMER hospital in Pondicherry, India. JIPMER is the pride of India. It is a government of India enterprise with a state-of-the-art facility and provides free health care. I was appointed to work with children under 10yrs for a vaccine implementation study in Pondicherry. It is so unfortunate that many of these kids in this coastal belt did not even live to celebrate their 10th birthday. They would succumb to some respiratory infections. Therefore, the goal was to visit the schools, collect throat swabs samples from kids to identify the culprit and then determine the next steps. My work began with calling out the tenders, purchases, school visits, sample collections, lab research and report writing. I saw high rates of vaccine preventable diseases among children, lack of advocacy among the public, low vaccine uptake and extreme poverty. This realization ignited a fire in me to give my best to the betterment of health through scientific research. My mentor, Dr. Reba Kanungo did an excellent job of mentoring me from onboarding to recharging me whenever I was distracted and unfocused. Her motivational words included, “You are a perfect fit for public health, you work very well in the community, take it forward”. That is where it all began, the passion for public health. My pranam to Dr. Kanungo, ‘Guru Devo Bhava’ – teacher is God.
In 2018, I was deployed to Africa. I took great pride in working closely with the Kenyan Ministry of Health in implementing HIV self testing program among homosexual men to enhance the timely diagnosis of HIV and linkage to care. This project was truly the best time of my life. My responsibilities were to assess implementation of HIV self-testing program among Men having Sex with Men (MSM) in Kenya. The stakeholders included MSM community, peer educators, outreach workers, health promoters, Kenyan Ministry of Health officials and scientists (infectious disease specialists, mathematical modelers, epidemiologists, and medical anthropologists). The key tasks were to perform an evidence review, administer focus group discussions and quantitative data collection in three counties called Kisumu, Kiambu and Mombasa in Kenya. This data was used in conducting a research design workshop in Nairobi, Kenya which highlighted the planning, organizing, designing, and delivering HIV self-testing program in Kenya. At the end of the research design workshop, I took the lead in the preparation of scientific reports, evidence briefs, research ethics submissions, grant application and a publication in British Medical Journal. It was a very time sensitive program with numerous complex deliverables, but I was successful in meeting all the deliverables.
During pre-pandemic time, when I was working with Nutritional International in Ottawa, I had a stint with World Health Organization (WHO) in conducting a commissioned review. Our team addressed policy recommendations for anaemia reduction strategies among women of reproduction age in low- and middle-income countries around the world. This 78-page review included an emphasis on nutritional and non-nutritional causes and contributing factors for anaemia. I conducted a secondary data analysis on micronutrient supplements, iron deficiency, anti-natal care, iron folic acid supplements, dietary diversity, food security, deworming, access to water and sanitation to reduce transmission of helminthic infections and use of insecticide treated nets for malaria vector control using data from complex databases. My experience felt as if I was travelling through the 132 countries and conducting landscape analysis to summarize the key issues related to anemia. In this review, we addressed many gaps in and problems with anaemia reduction efforts, identified and described various components required for successful evidence-informed anaemia reduction programmes, and included recommendations for programme implementers and decision-makers, with links to multiple resources and tools that can be contextualized to each country’s situation. This work is published in WHO website. This is my biggest triumph in my contributions to public health.
Q. That’s incredible! Now you have achieved yet another milestone. The Prime Minister has a special mention of you in his letter to CCVI. If I’m correct you are the first Mangalorean to receive such an honor. Don’t you feel so proud to receive such recognition from the Prime Minister of Canada?
A:. I was delighted to learn that our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, having learned of my enormous and valuable input into various areas of science has sent an eloquent and wonderfully written appreciation letter to me. This letter will always be treasured by me. A classmate who I am very close to and now residing south of the border joked, “I love your Prime Minister Trudeau but now I envy that you have his letter”. I am humbled to receive this letter of appreciation from our dear Prime Minister Trudeau. And this is yet another incentive to carry forward my plans and goals.
Q. What are your future plans in the sector of Scientific Research, Public Health, and Social Science?
A: I owe a great debt of gratitude to my roots and my birthplace. My childhood, hometown, the schools I attended nurtured me. These are my greatest treasures in life. As I said in the beginning, this award is a way forward. I am looking for avenues and opportunities to give back to the community such as implementing some public health programs which can benefit the most vulnerable women and children in Mangalore. My focus will be mostly concentrated on maternal child health. I am currently putting together the resources and doing the groundwork to bring on board the stakeholders to take a deep dive into the program. I want to leave a strong legacy behind. This is my dream, and I am excited to realize these dreams.
Q. What is your message to the younger generation, especially to our community youth?
A: I reiterate the same words of wisdom imparted to me by my dad. Empower yourself with highest level of education, harmonize your available resources, align your goals, build a network, envision an exciting career, and help others. Apart from your core skills, find a hobby or hobbies that motivate you and help you grow as these should be your natural therapeutic release. In my own life, gardening in the summer and cooking authentic Mangalorean food are my natural remedies to relieve my stress. In a nutshell – always dream high, stay ambitious, seek opportunities, work hard, do your due diligence, be honest, do not lose hope and always pray. When you excel in life, stay humble and down to earth, but don’t forget your roots. Give back to the community when you get an opportunity to do so. This is my message to the youth of our community.
Q. What is your message for the people of the west coast in India who are settled in Canada?
A: We should be thankful that we are living in a beautiful multicultural country called Canada. We, the people of the west coast of India, should take pride in keeping our mother tongue, heritage, tradition, and our culture alive. We all have inherited rich traditions that we grew up with, whether they are daily habits, festivities, music, sports, celebrations, or food. We must preserve our traditions by continuously practicing them in the country where we currently reside while adopting new traditions and habits.
A huge heartfelt thanks to you Gerry baab for giving me an opportunity to go down the memory.