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Ambitious Roadmap Outlines How Countries Can Better Respond To Disease Outbreaks

The Task Force for Global Health and its global partners have crafted a far-reaching, seven-step action framework to modernize, strengthen, and expand global Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETPs). It is now well understood globally that a well-trained and resourced army of field epidemiologists is essential for a country’s ability to detect and combat disease outbreaks.

The Global Field Epidemiology Roadmap was the result of a meeting that The Task Force convened with global field epidemiology leaders at The Rockefeller Foundation’s picturesque Bellagio Center in Italy last June.

“The idea of this meeting was to take definitive steps toward solving some of the issues that have been recognized and talked about for a long time,” says Patrick O’Carroll, MD, MPH, who heads the health systems strengthening sector at The Task Force.

Kip Baggett, who heads the Workforce & Institute Development branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was at the Bellagio meeting, says the framework has charted a path to develop FETP into an even more robust and impactful enterprise. “The roadmap underscores the continued critical importance of the FETPs to shore up health systems and enhance global health security.”

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began supporting FETPs in 1980, the program has seen immense growth, and is now the foundation for disease surveillance and response in more than 160 countries. The program provides critical public health and global health security services through a learn-by-doing approach, where epidemiologists are mentored in the field and then ultimately join their country’s public health workforce.

However, as the scope of the FETP initiative has expanded, so has the complexity involved in managing such a widespread program. Programs have to continually adapt to disease threats and mobilize cross border support when required, as was the case during the recent Ebola outbreak in the Congo. Other issues include the slow integration of programs into countries’ public health infrastructure and a lack of career opportunities for FETP graduates.

With these challenges front and center, the roadmap recommends that countries develop national epidemiology workforce targets; accelerate the integration of these programs into their public health institutions; improve program quality and accountability; and assure sustainable funding.

Securing adequate funds has been a longstanding challenge, O’Carroll says. “Despite the fact that we’ve had this astonishing success, every year it’s a struggle for CDC and other funding partners and stakeholders to ensure that resources are made available to support new programs, and to continue to support the ones we have.”

At Bellagio, the group embarked first on developing an overarching vision to guide the FETP initiative. “We had never really articulated what our final mile looked like,” he says. “If we really did ultimately accomplish what we had set out to do — what would success look like? That is how we came up with our vision: that every country in the world would have the applied epidemiology capacities needed to protect and promote the health of its own population, and collaborate with others to promote global health.”

The action framework is meant to be used as a guide by participants at every level — from the village to the globe. O’Carroll said the meeting demonstrated The Task Force’s signature ability to bring together different organizations and partners with varying approaches and perspectives so that they might plot a common path for the future.

O’Carroll says the ultimate success of the program will come when every country has “demonstrably effective field epidemiology capacity. When we’ve done that, and it’s self-sustaining, we’ve achieved our goal.”

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