On a humid day in late August, after meeting with the General Department of Preventive Medicine of Ministry of Health in Vietnam, I was told that I would have a key role in the organization and planning of the upcoming Epihack Vietnam. I had never done anything like it before. I felt intimidated, but also excited. I love it’s a challenge. The challenge of organizing a hackathon in a foreign country would be difficult.

After going through an organizers course at epihack.org, and after discussing with my colleagues at InSTEDD, as well as at Skoll Global Threats Fund, I felt more capable, along with the close cooperation from the Vietnamese General Department of Preventive Medicine and Tran Hong Quang, who was InSTEDD’s Global Ambassador in Vietnam. Together we checked off item by item on our shared to-do list.

One of the first tasks of planning an EpiHack is the event space. It’s important to choose a space that has areas for breakout meetings, and is in a central location. After some research, we decided on the Serena Hotel and Resort in Hoa Binh province. The following task was selecting participants. An EpiHack should have a roughly balanced number of technologist and health experts. We would also need to contact real-time professional translators for the event. Other items included setting up plans for field trips, scheduling speakers, including government organizations, and processing documents like travel visas.

After several months of preparation, I arrived to Hoa Binh on the day before the event starting date. I spent the night completing last minute arrangements and collaborated with the other facilitators to prepare for the day ahead.

October 9th arrived, the day I had been waiting for. The event began with speeches, event introductions, and a preview of the event to come, including topic issues. The conference room buzzed with energy. People from around the world interacted with each other and prepared for an intense five-days ahead.

As an organizer, the first thing to do every morning is to meet with the event facilitators to confirm whether there is any change in the agenda. We then include the participants and start the day with an energizer, followed by additional work in breakout groups, for example. The technologists often work during the night, hacking on their laptops, and I assist them by communicating with hotel staff, informing our plans for the evening, and making sure there are plenty of snacks to go around.

After five long, eventful days, EpiHack Vietnam concluded with four of the prototype solutions being presented in front of all participants as well as honorable guests from the US CDC and GDPM. The closing events completed, participants exchanged information, and went back to their homes. However, the momentum of an Epihack never comes to an end. The prototypes are continued and advanced into working tools, and the relationships formed are strengthened and continued for years. I will cherish the memories of EpiHack Vietnam forever, including the many challenges. The challenges that taught me that with teamwork and unity, anything can be overcome. I look forward with great anticipation to take part in such an event again. To form new relationships, and to take away additional lessons learned.

Related: View the EpiHack Vietnam Photo Essay

EpiHacks are collaborative week-long events that bring together public health officials, epidemiologists, and technologists to to create digital solutions for improved disease surveillance. Since 2013 EpiHacks have been held in countries around the world including Tanzania, Brazil, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.