Around four months ago, Mamadou TounKara began working as the new epidemiologist at the Tooele County Health Department.
TounKara comes to Tooele County originally from West Africa, by the way of the Utah Department of Health where he previously worked as a COVID-19 hotspot epidemiologist in the Division of Disease Control department.
“I was in daily COVID meetings just to see which county in the state had the most cases of COVID and I would send a report to all of the local health departments,” TounKara explained about his last job.
Jeff Coombs, the executive health director at the Tooele County Health Department, reached out to TounKara while TounKara was working at the UDOH, and told him that the position of epidemiologist for the Tooele County Health Department was open. Coombs asked him if he wanted to take the job.
“I relocated here [to Tooele] to take the job,” TounKara said. “I really like the landscape here so I convinced my wife to move here.”
“I am really proud to be here,” TounKara continued. “I like the community and the people. At the state health department, the people are so focused, they can’t even say ‘Hi.’ Here, everyone says ‘Hi.’”
Now nearly every day, TounKara rides his bicycle to work, which he stores in his office.
“I love biking to work,” he said. “I love to take my time, because Tooele is very beautiful.”
As an epidemiologist, TounKara creates a weekly COVID-19 report and sends it to all health department staff. He also deals with information related to opioid abuse by analyzing overdose information, helps prevent suicide by collecting information and developing programs related to suicide prevention, and completes surveys to assess community needs.
Along with the extensive job duties listed above, TounKara deals with the flu and other infectious diseases and community risk issues.
TounKara enjoys working with everyone at the health department.
“I am very proud of everyone here,” he said. “They all do their best and they are very welcoming and thrive to make Tooele one of the healthiest places. I am very grateful to be part of that team.”
TounKara was born in Mali, West Africa as the third of seven children.
Mali, officially called the Republic of Mali, is the eighth-largest country in Africa with an area of around 776,713 miles. The population of the country is around 19.1 million with around 70% of the population being under the age of 25, as reported in 2017.
TounKara’s mother works as the human rights coordinator in Mali and his dad is an engineer.
“My parents taught me to work hard and how education was so important,” TounKara explained. “My mom always said that she can’t protect us from everything but education would shield us. She said if you are educated, you can make your way.”
Growing up, TounKara had a big family, which helped him grow into the person he is today.
“You never really feel alone,” he said. “Most of the time there were people to talk. I always thank God that he gave me good parents, because I am away from home now and I see that I get along with people well now. I don’t have any problems. I feel like my parents taught me well and I am grateful for that.”
TounKara graduated from medical school in Mali and obtained a scholarship to attend school at Brigham Young University where he obtained his master’s degree in public health with a focus in epidemiology and global health.
I decided to study at BYU because BYU combines both secular and spiritual learning, which helps each student to use what they learned and apply it to real world challenges and solve problems,” TounKara explained about why he chose BYU.
After TounKara graduated from BYU in 2019, he began working for UDOH.
TounKara’s wife works as a special education teacher in the Salt Lake Valley, but isn’t opposed to transitioning to a job in her field in Tooele.
“We are told there are a lot of special education jobs here, so I am not worried that she will find a job,” TounKara said.
TounKara and his wife are also expecting their first child, a baby girl who will be born in May.
“We are so excited,” he said.
In his free time, TounKara enjoys biking with his wife and watching sports, especially soccer.
When asked if there was a quote or inspirational saying that he applies to his life, TounKara was quick to answer.
“I have two quotes,” he said. “The first is like a mantra, it’s to have one problem and two solutions always, in case one doesn’t work, so I have another solution ready to go. The second is a quote by Nelson Mandela that I really like. It says ‘Education is the most powerful weapon that we can use to change the world.’”
TounKara wants the people of Tooele to know they are in good hands.
“I can say that I will do my very best to make sure that people have the right information about infectious diseases and the things they need to know concerning public health,” he said.