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AFENET Director lauds Somalia’s field epidemiology program; Government promises support

Even before COVID-19, the need to boost Somalia’s health came of age due to insecurity, poor infrastructure and food insecurity. Established in 2021, the first cohort of the frontline FETP is the first step towards improving surveillance, outbreak response and strengthening the health system in the country. Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETPs) follow a three-tiered pyramidal model comprising frontline, intermediate, and advanced training.

Somalia's pioneer frontline FETP cohort graduated in Mogadishu on 25 January 2022. Twenty-one (21) trainees comprising of surveillance officers and public health emergency coordinators were awarded certificates after three months of training. Somalia's Minister of Health and Social Care Her Excellency Fowsiya Abikar the AFENET Director Dr. Simon Antara, the Public Health Emergency Response Coordinator, Dr. Mohammed Dero and, the Somalia National Institute of Health Director, Dr. Abdi Fatah Ahmed graced the occasion.

The launch of this program is a loud pronouncement of Somalia’s commitment to safe guarding the health of its people. It is a commitment to towards ensuring National, Continental and Global Health Security. I am certain that if Somalia remains committed to this effort of developing field epidemiology capacity, there will be great benefits in the strengthening of Somalia’s health system. Let me also take the opportunity to thank all the partners particularly, CDC, WHO, Public Health agency of Sweden and AFENET who have worked with the Ministry of Health to have this training program right here in Somalia,” said Dr. Simon Antara, the Director AFENET.

Federal Government promises support

In her remarks, Minister Fowsiya Abikar Nur noted that the training was a timely initiative as the country experiences different public health emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other diseases.

As a result of the three decades of instability in Somalia due to the collapse of the then government in 1991, one of the most affected sectors in the country was and still is the health system leading to frequent disease outbreaks & epidemics causing loss of lives. Somalia has in the past also lacked the capacity to detect and respond in a timely manner to both existing and emerging public health threats within and out of the country, thus relying heavily on external support. 

The first field epidemiology training cohort in Somalia is the first step towards building the capacity of the forefront workers that will contribute to the strengthening of Somalia’s health system.

I urge those graduating today to complete the advanced programs in the field epidemiology so that they may one day become mentors and trainers for future epidemiologists in Somalia. I am pleased to know that Somalia’s field epidemiology training program has a graduation rate of over 90% graduation rate and this is in large part because of the efforts put together by the NIH director and his team as well AFENET, WHO and other partners,” Minister Fowzia further said, adding: “I reaffirm the ministry of health’s commitment to play a leading role in achieving its objectives, and continue investing invest to move upward to advance Field Epidemiology Training Program. We also committed to give priority of staff recruitment of Public health emergency department at all level,

AFENET, WHO, CDC, Swedish Public health institute and IGAD are steadfast partners in the implementation of the Somalia frontline FETP.

Beneficiaries’ reflections

Speaking to the relevance of the training in Somalia, Mr Osman Abdi Mohammed –one graduate of the Somalia Frontline FETP Cohort I said:

As a public health emergency officer and health practitioner here in Somalia, this training has equipped me with knowledge and skills. The first FETP training has given Somalia a competitive edge in Field Epidemiology world Wide. As field Epidemiologists we have learnt a lot of skills in the 3 months. This has been having been one of the areas that has been down in Somalia rapidly to detect, respond to and contain public health emergencies. The training has given us a lot of knowledge and will make our work very easy to analyse data for integrated disease surveillance.

I will be able to deliver the skills and the knowledge we have applied through the course and also to train other health workers on how to conduct field epidemiology as a daily routine.” 

The programs mentor, Mr Kasim Mahdi Sultan was equally delighted:

It is difficult to express in words but I feel privileged to be a part of solving one of the greatest public health problems in Africa, which is low health workforce. Somalia has a low health system structure and yet is an epidemic prone disease country. There is low public health human resource capacity.

As a mentor of the program, I support efforts to stop, control and contain the spread of disease outbreaks. I also participate in producing highly equipped frontline field epidemiology capacity that can investigate and response to outbreaks at ground level. This is a personal success for me and Somalia as we succeed in building the local public health emergency system.

I feel like a hero to be able to have mentored the first cohort of FETP in a country with low security, poor access and low capacity of health workers.