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South Sudan FETP graduates 21 frontline disease detectives

Twenty-one health workers of the first cohort of the South Sudan frontline field epidemiology training program (FETP) have graduated following three successful months of residency.

The 21 residents comprising surveillance officers were drawn from the county (7 trainees), administrative area (2 trainees), state (10 trainees), and national (2 trainees) levels. It is envisaged that with this training, they will boost the country’s recognition and analysis of public health problems through increased accuracy of surveillance data reporting and analysis at state and county levels, and stronger data management aimed at better decision making.

In his opening remarks at the March 28 ceremony, the AFENET Director Dr. Simon Antara attributed the launch of the South Sudan FETP to a productive partnership between AFENET and the US CDC that has seen the establishment of 34 frontline FETPs in 34 Sub-Saharan countries including South Sudan. Dr. Antara emphasized that maintaining a good quality of FETP would be key to attracting resources and ensuring longevity.

The South Sudan US Embassy Charge d' Affaires Mr. David Renz accentuated that for more than 40 years, the CDC has through partnerships such as the one with AFENET trained over 20,000 disease detectives in 80 countries around the world. Ambassador Renz noted that this has contributed to the building of sustainable health systems.

On an informative note, the CDC Country Director Dr. Sudhir Bunga said the frontline program is modeled after the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), a hands-on applied epidemiology training fellowship program that teaches residents to apply the science of epidemiology to solve public health problems. Dr. Bunga emphasized that frontline disease detectives are boots on the ground that help to detect diseases in communities.

Ministry of Health Under Secretary Dr. Victoria Aniip Majur thanked AFENET and CDC for working with her country to establish the South Sudan FETP,

“COVID-19 taught us the importance of having a robust system and very importantly having a strong laboratory, data, and timely response,” said Dr Majur. 

She told the gathering that the ministry of health has now adopted using the district health information system (DHIS2) to collect, visualize, and analyze data. She stressed this to the new graduates and emphasized the importance of timely data and timely results.

Cognizant of the potential field epidemiology capacity development has to strengthen the country’s public health systems and programs, and fast tracking the attainment of IHR core capacities for prevention, detection, and response to public health threats, the Republic of South Sudan embarked on training selected senior health professionals in the 2-year advanced field epidemiology training at the Kenya FETP. Between 2007 and 2012, a total of 16 health professionals comprising nine medical doctors, five lab scientists, one dentist, and one veterinarian completed the advanced FETP. However, this number is inadequate to achieve the global health security agenda (GHSA) workforce development action package target of 1 trained field epidemiologist per 200,000 of the population. The gap is yet to be filled and the frontline training is a step towards achieving the above.