I’ve been with the Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) for 2.5 years now, where I am currently the resident advisor (RA) in South Sudan. My epidemiology training has provided me with the opportunity to gain a wide variety of experiences; prior to joining FETP, I served as an epidemiologist with Médecins Sans Frontières-Switzerland (MSF-CH), working in the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, and have also worked in Dawei (Tavoy), Burma . I am glad to be able to pass on my knowledge about epidemiology to future leaders in the field. As an RA I assist with basic FETP implementation for county and state surveillance officers as well as immunization managers and supervisors. I also advise on outbreak response for priority diseases as well as assist with cascade training for the health facility staff who provide immunization services.
South Sudan is currently developing its own Field Epidemiology Training Program with an immunization focus. They are aiming to improve acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) surveillance, as well as routine immunization service delivery and practice and folding in both AFP and routine immunization into Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) within the MoH. We’ve already seen the positive impact that FETP has had on public health in South Sudan; surveillance and immunization officers now have standardized job descriptions and terms of reference, demonstrating the way FETP has helped to develop and strengthen the public health workforce in the country. County health departments and their associated health facilities have made tangible progress and can independently construct and maintain EPI monitoring charts for their areas. Graduates of South Sudan’s FETP have gone on to lead outbreak investigations instead of solely relying on WHO teams to lead them. These same graduates are now able to create epidemic curves to assist in interpreting and describing outbreaks and to develop case definitions. Finally, graduates have conducted data quality assessments in all 10 states in South Sudan as well as 30% of the counties to develop targeted data quality interventions.
Collaboration has certainly been critical to the development of the South Sudan FETP. Kenya FELTP graduates are working with the South Sudan MoH to help improve overall practice capacity and leadership; these Kenyan graduates have also worked with WHO in South Sudan, assisting with IDSR training and surveillance in the region. In turn, the lessons learned in the South Sudan FETP may help Kenya develop and expand its basic level of field epidemiology training to improve local capacity. It has truly been an advantageous relationship, and working together has helped cement FETP competencies and increase graduates’ abilities to conduct outbreak investigations. By implementing the tiered (basic, intermediate, advanced) training, the region’s operational capacity will improve its ability to detect diseases. Whereas the majority of the public health workforce in the country was previously composed of surveillance officers, non-physician clinicians, sanitarians, and those with no formal public health training, the provision of FETP training allows us to improve the public health workforce across the country.
This strengthening of public health capacity is not only beneficial for South Sudan, but also helps to improve global health security for the region and the world. With an increased local capacity to detect, respond, investigate, and report on specific conditions such as AFP, rash, and fever-related illnesses, public health officials are better able to prevent their spread into and from neighboring states. FETP provides a solid structure for global consistency in training—we know that FETP residents in DRC are receiving the same quality and level of knowledge and skills that those in South Sudan, Haiti, or Guatemala are receiving. This standardization in training is valuable and important as we focus on increasing global health security; by ensuring that all countries have similar skills and capabilities, we can ensure that our disease detection and response capacities are as uniform and strong as possible.