As part of countries’ active preparedness and response plans for the COVID-19 pandemic, Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETPs) and Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) have been deeply involved in related activities. Within their work, FETPs and RRTs have proven to be a key asset in responding to various related public health emergencies.
On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, EMPHNET conducted a webinar titled “Role of FETPs and RRTs as First Line Responders during COVID-19 Pandemic”. The webinar highlighted the role of FETPs and RRTs while providing examples from Pakistan, Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt.
The webinar hosted three speakers and two guests, namely: Executive Director/ Clinical Director FELTP, National Institute of Health, Islamabad- Pakistan, Prof. Aamer Ikram, SI(M); General Director of the National Observatory of New and Emerging Diseases; FETP Director- Tunisia, Prof. Nissaf Bou Afif; and Executive Director, GHD|EMPHNET, Dr. Mohannad Al Nsour. In addition to the above-mentioned presenters, the session also hosted FETP Yemen Director, Dr. Abdulhakeem Kohlani; and FETP Egypt Director, Dr. Sahar Sami. The session was facilitated by Public Health Expert, Associate Professor, Baghdad University – Iraq, Dr. Faris Lami; and the CDC Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Ms. Heather Burke.
Dr. Lami started the webinar by introducing the webinar’s focus while emphasizing the role of FETPs and RRTs in controlling COVID-19 transmission and reducing mortality and morbidity rates. He added that their active involvement is an outcome of the lessons they have learned through FETP and RRT programs that provide their participants with practical experience while executing theoretical concepts on the ground. Dr. Lami stated that the role of FETPs and RRTs is to strengthen their country’s health system to detect, notify, report, and respond to events threatening national and international health. He then introduced the speakers, the guests, and the co-facilitator Ms. Heather Burke.
Dr. Mohannad Al Nsour started his presentation by giving a brief on EMPHNET’s work with Ministries of Health and partners in building the capacity of the health workforce, supporting operational research, and developing innovative solutions to public health challenges. He highlighted EMPHNET’s work in supporting FETPs by providing technical assistance and facilitating training in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR). He added that GHD|EMPHNET’s support areas are increasing trained FETPs, improving Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) and laboratory practices, improving documentation and data collection, maintaining communication with partners, focusing on country priorities, and exchanging experience between countries.
In his presentation, Prof. Aamer Ikram introduced FELTP Pakistan and its objective to strengthen the International Health Regulations’ (IHR) core capacity of the workforce for real-time surveillance. He mentioned that all graduates have been actively involved in the COVID-19 response activities where they conducted a survey to gauge in emergency preparedness and response activities outlined in the WHO COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. He added that 568 FELTP residents and graduates were involved in coordination, planning, and monitoring. FELTPs were also involved in the Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) components through the establishment of a communication mechanism for the dissemination of messages and material. Moreover, they were heavily deployed at Points of Entry (PoEs). FELTP graduates also conducted trainings for medical and nonmedical front-liners in the area ofIPC. Prof. Ikram concluded his presentation by saying that the FELTP has been a huge source of support during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The third presenter, Prof. Nissaf Bou Afif, introduced Tunisia’s preparedness and response plan. She highlighted the role of FETPs in revising, updating, and conducting the plan. She added that FETPs were involved in the detection, confirmation, and investigation of cases, as well as the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for treatment at the national and regional levels. More specifically, FETPs and RRTs were responsible for the following activities: PoE surveillance, investigation and follow-up of patients, contact tracing, following up on all hospitalized cases, enhancing lab activities, and quarantine procedures.
Following the presentations, Dr. Abdulhakeem Kohlani shared Yemen’s FETP experience. He talked about its role in responding to the pandemic. He added that FETP residents and graduates conducted the evaluation for the PoEs and RRTs, laboratory capacity, hospital preparedness, IPC, logistics, and coordination at country and governorate levels. He mentioned that FETP residents and graduates updated the national plan and developed the guidelines. From her end, Dr. Sahar Sami also shared Egypt’s FETP experience. She talked about the participation of the FETP residents and graduates in developing and updating the national public health emergency and response plan. She added that FETPs were also involved in the screening, follow-up and data collection at PoEs, and they also assisted in enhancing the national surveillance system through developing SOPs.
269 persons attended the webinar. A Q&A session followed the three presentations, during which the discussion focused on FETPs’ and RRTs’ involvement in the COVID-19 response activities.