CDC in Thailand: Working abroad for global health securityPosted on by
Last week I traveled with the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to visit our office in Thailand and to see first-hand examples of our successful collaboration with Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), other health-related government and public agencies, and other USG agencies. Secretary Sebelius was deeply impressed by the CDC programs she saw.
CDC’s partnership with Thailand’s MoPH began more than 30 years ago with Thailand’s Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP), a program that trains field epidemiologists (disease detectives) and public health leaders to detect, investigate, and rapidly respond to outbreaks. Similar to FETP programs around the world, FETP residents have become the country’s boots on the ground in the battle to protect public health. They investigate and control disease outbreaks by conducting essential disease surveillance. They also lead many of the nation’s key health and public health entities, including the organization that oversees Thailand’s universal health care coverage organization.
I spent time with the founders and alumni of Thailand’s FETP, which has grown beyond the nation’s borders to train disease detectives in neighboring countries, increasing global health security throughout the region. This program has graduated more than 250 skilled epidemiologists from Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Many of the graduates hold key leadership positions, not only in Thailand’s MoPH, but also the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund.
I also saw how CDC works to secure health in border regions and to improve the health of refugees on their way to the United States. Secretary Sebelius and I visited Mae La refugee camp on the Thailand-Burma (Myanmar) border, which shelters about 45,000 Burmese refugees. The camp has experienced four cholera outbreaks in the past eight years. CDC started a partnership there that led to 36,000 refugees in Mae La receiving at least one dose of an effective oral cholera vaccine.
We also visited a refugee processing center in Mae Sot where medical exams are conducted for U.S.-bound refugees. The center is important for assessing refugee health to identify and treat infectious diseases and other communicable health threats during their pre-departure process. This not only protects the refugees’ health but also prevents diseases from being spread to the United States. CDC works there to develop screening guidelines for the medical exams and to give guidance to staff to manage infectious threats and outbreaks.
In Bangkok I also visited sites where CDC is working with Thailand on critical HIV research with global implications. One area of study focuses on preventing HIV transmission from mothers to their children, and another is reducing transmission among men who have sex with men. Controlling the HIV epidemic is a critical worldwide issue, and lessons learned from this collaboration have both regional and global implications.
Together with Thailand’s government and nongovernmental organizations we are addressing threats to health around the world. CDC’s partnership with Thailand is ready to meet new challenges such as fighting drug-resistance and detecting deadly outbreaks. We are fortunate to work side-by-side with strong partners at Thailand’s MoPH, advancing our shared goals of protecting the health of our citizens and of improving health around the world.