Building Epidemiological Capacity to Slow the Spread of a Pandemic

This article is a sub-article to “Could We Have Been More Prepared for the Coronavirus Pandemic?” See the full article.

Health system strengthening is often equated to having more doctors and nurses. While having a qualified healthcare workforce is certainly one critical element of a strong health system, health system strengthening is much more than that. 

“Certainly, many countries need more nurses and doctors. But an effective public health response to something like COVID-19 ideally means that we prevent and slow the spread of the epidemic so that we don’t overwhelm the capacity of our healthcare system to provide needed care,” said The Task Force for Global Health’s Head of Health System Strengthening, Patrick O’Carroll, MD, MPH.

In order to do this, The Task Force’s Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET) has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more than 20 years to build global outbreak response capacity by establishing and supporting Field Epidemiology (and Laboratory) Training Programs (FETPs/FELTPs) globally. 

These FETPs and FELTPs – embedded within ministries of health, national public health institutes, universities, and other public health agencies – are currently on the frontlines in the fight to control the spread of coronavirus. Working with their respective health agencies, their ongoing activities include points of entry screening, disease surveillance, case investigation, contact tracing, assistance at quarantine centers, development of testing and treatment protocols, and providing epidemiologists to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) for deployment to outbreak hot spots. 

As the secretariat for this global network, TEPHINET is operating a virtual platform called TEPHIConnect for programs, globally, to connect and share strategies and challenges on coronavirus preparedness and response efforts. 

In addition, TEPHINET is holding monthly global teleconferences for programs to share their experiences in these areas. TEPHINET has also created a Coronavirus Knowledge Hub on its website to share reputable learning and training resources on COVID-19. 

“The current outbreak is a stark reminder of the need to invest more in field epidemiology capacity building at the country program level,” said TEPHINET’s Program Director, Carl Reddy, MB.BCh, FCPHM, M.Sc. “In order to develop the capacity to deal effectively with tomorrow’s outbreaks, we need to invest today in building field epidemiology capacity through established FETPs/FELTPs and new frontline trainings.”

Header photo caption: Trainees and fellows of the Afghanistan FETP conduct COVID-19 sampling in Afghan communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo credit: Afghanistan Field Epidemiology Training Program

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