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When Namibia hosted 2nd AFENET Southern Africa Regional Conference

The Namibia Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP) successfully hosted the 2nd AFENET Southern Africa Regional Scientific Conference from August 3 through August 5, 2022 at the University of Namibia in the capital Windhoek.

According to the Namibia FELTP Program Director Ms Emmy-Else Ndevaetela, the conference which also had online attendance had 12 oral abstract presentations and 75 oral poster presentations from residents and alumni accepted by the scientific committee. 

Held under the theme “Strengthening Health Security through Evidence-Based Public Health Interventions in Southern Africa and beyond,” the conference provided a platform for the FETP residents and graduates to showcase their work over the past several years.

Topics on outbreak investigations, surveillance, and response to experiences with immunization dominated the presentations during the three-day conference.

Officials at the conference echoed the significance of field epidemiology and the need to support this specialist in order to strengthen health systems in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world in order to boost global health security.

Calls for more investment

The Namibia Health and Social Service’s ministry’s Deputy Executive Director Ms Petronella Masabane underscored the need to advocate for increased investment in field of epidemiological research and human resources.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented visibility to field epidemiologists but this visibility has not always resulted in the importance of this profession nor increased support needed to strengthen public health systems around the globe to better detect and respond to outbreaks,” Ms Masabane said. “As health systems face increasing complex threats, training health workers in field epidemiology is even more important than ever.”

Similarly, AFENET Board Chair Prof Ernest Kenu, emphasizing the critical part played by FETPs in strengthening health systems, noted that the events of the last three years have accentuated the need for us to develop this capacity.

Prof Kenu asked governments and partners to continue supporting FETPs to further build capacity, innovate, and respond to various outbreaks. “If there is any time that we need to prepare adequately for the next pandemic, this is the time because Covid-19 has shown all of us that we need to do more than what we are doing and therefore there is a need for us to identify new approaches to responding to outbreaks.”

The WHO Country Representative in Namibia Dr. Charles Sagoes-Moses observed that investment in health workforce development aimed at improving service coverage, emergency and disaster risk management not only builds resilience and health security, “it also reduces health vulnerability and provides the human resources required to prevent, prepare fore, respond to, and recover from emergencies.”

“The FE[L]TP is one of the good examples of improving the health system and contributes to accomplishment of Sustainable Development Goal 3 by 2030,” said Dr Sagoes-Moses, in remarks made on his behalf by Dr Catherine Muwonge Magezi.

On a note of reassurance, Prof. Kenu said AFENET would continue to expand the drive to ensure that all countries within sub-Saharan Africa have adequate Field epidemiology capacity to respond to the various health events confronting humanity. He however observed that AFENET could not do this singularly but in partnership with governments and partners.

He added: “We believe we can do it if we are together. And that is why also want to say a very big thank you to all the various line ministries, ministries of agriculture, the National Institutes of Public Health, and the various universities that we are collaborating with. We cannot leave behind the US CDC, the Africa CDC, KOICA and all the other valuable partners who have supported us to come this far.”

Looking ahead, AFENET Director Dr Simon Antara said FETPs and FELTPs were expected to exist long enough to serve posterity. “Therefore, we have a responsibility to ensure that these programs are sustained. We can do this by being deliberate in our efforts to strengthen and institutionalize them. This is a responsibility that rest first and foremost with the health leadership of countries. In addition, it is a responsibility that rest with all stakeholders and partners committed to providing quality public health services.”

The Deputy Country Director of the US CDC in Namibia Dr Rachel Johnson urged countries to use what he referred to as a window of opportunity that has been presented from the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic to build on the momentum.

“With the role of epidemiologists better understood, we have momentum and we can use that to help us move forward to do our part to create a safer world. The world knows that we need to do more to prevent future outbreaks but the world doesn’t know how to stop those future outbreaks. We need to do our part to define, guide and advise on the way forward,” Dr Johnson argued.

Appreciating the role played by field epidemiologists, Namibia’s Health and Social Services Deputy Minister Hon. Dr. Esther Utjiua Muinjangue, described this cadre as a team of “dedicated, skilled, knowledgeable, and passionate individuals” ready to defend ready to defend the health of their people at whatever cost.

“In health emergencies we need not only knowledge and skilful people but most importantly we need people with great attitude to serve as disease detectives,” she said adding, “It is our dream that all countries in the region and beyond continue training this type of formidable cadres to enable us to interject timely the threats paused by public health emergencies.” 

Awarding the Best

Best Upcoming Scientist Presentation

Winner: Monika Amunyela, Namibia; Evaluation of Tuberculosis Surveillance System in Katima Mulilo District, Zambezi Region, Namibia, October - November 2020.

Runner Up: Lourdes Lopes Augusta, Angola; Investigation of Chikungunya Cases in Cabinda Province, Angola 2019.

Best Poster Presentation

Winner: Miquelena Chicanequisso, Mozambique; Description of animal bite and rabies cases – Mozambique January 2020 – June 2021.

1st Runners Up: Leigh Johnston, South Africa; Using gaps identified during an enteric fever outbreak investigation to formulate targeted educational messaging, North West Province, 2021. 

2nd Runners Up: Godwin Choga, Zimbabwe; Surveillance system evaluation of adverse drug reactions due to antiretroviral drugs, Mazowe District, Zimbabwe, 2021.

Best Oral Presentation

Winner: Gcobisa Ncaza, South Africa; Surveillance of hospitalized healthcare workers due to Coronavirus disease 2019 in the Eastern Cape province from April 2020 - December 2021.

Joint 1st Runners Up:

Memory Chimsimbe, Zimbabwe; Factors associated with uptake of HIV testing among clients diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections in Chegutu District, Zimbabwe, 2021.

John Simwanza, Zambia; COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness during a Prison Outbreak when the Omicron was the dominant Circulating Varient-Zambia, December 2021.

2nd Runners Up: Maxwell Mabona, South Africa; Investigation of COVID-19 Outbreak in a Correctional Service Center in Kokstad - KwaZulu-Natal, July - August 2021.