In May 2009, EMPHNET was officially established as a collaborative platform dedicated to promoting public health in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, with specific focus on field epidemiology.
Our journey started in Kuala Lumpur in 2008, when a bilateral meeting was held during the Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET) Global Conference. In this meeting, the Directors of Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETPs) from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, met with representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to discuss the need to establish a network that would facilitate and coordinate FETP activities in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR). Several discussions followed to develop this initial concept further, until a follow-up meeting took place in Amman, Jordan later that year. In this meeting, directors of the three FETPs met along with representatives from the CDC and NAMRU-3 and agreed on establishing a regional network with a consensus of having its headquarters office in Amman.
“When I took the lead of EMPHNET, my main concerns were mixed. However my priorities were clear as they involved efforts needed to physically establish EMPHNET, recruit the right people, and assure commitment of member countries, while securing funds that can assure growth and sustainability for EMPHNET.” Dr. Mohannad Al-Nsour – Executive Director
With the FETPs from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan as members, the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network (EMPHNET) was officially announced and registered in Jordan in May, 2009. Support was provided from TEPHINET to assist in EMPHNET’s initial efforts, which were executed solely by Dr. Mohannad Al Nsour, who was later mandated with the role of EMPHNET’s Executive Director. In 2010, EMPHNET signed a collaborative agreement with the CDC to support FETP activities in the region. So, with support from the CDC, we invested in efforts to broaden our network by embracing the newly developed Morocco and Iraq FETPs in 2010 and Yemen FETP in 2011. We also welcomed the FETP in Afghanistan which served Pakistan as well, thus bringing our member countries to eight, by the end of 2011.
“Growing Beyond” Strategy
In line with our mission to support public health systems in our region, we decided to grow beyond FETPs by developing relationships with non-FETP countries. So we started engaging public health officials and entities from non-FETP countries in our activities, such as Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia, Palestinian Occupied Territories, and Bangladesh. We further expanded our relations in 2013 when we signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Afghanistan National Public Health Institute of the Ministry of Public Health, the Sudan Federal Ministry of Health, the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi, the National Institute of Health Administration of the Ministry of Health of Morocco, and the Ministry of Health in Jordan, followed by Yemen Ministry of Health and Population in 2014.
Bringing Sustainability on Board
Equal importance to growing our efforts was investment in our capacity and moving towards organizational expansion. Our staff grew from three staff in 2011 to six in 2012, to 22 by the end of 2014. This expansion together with the demand on our services reflected positively on our involvement in the region. From 2014, we took on the responsibility of planning for the future by developing a strategic plan, which set our strategic objectives over the coming five years. This brought us many benefits, including the need to change our standard ways of working by focusing on long term growth and sustainability. Our underlying approach also changed – from “implement” to “plan”. In support of this, we planned to expand and diversify our funding sources and were successful in 2014 when we signed a cooperative agreement with the Biosecurity Engagement Program, a program implemented by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction (ISN/CTR). Through this cooperative agreement, we expanded our scope of work to address issues of biosafety and biosecurity in our region.
Recently, as the Syrian conflict evolved into a massive humanitarian crisis, we joined the national response efforts in Jordan and in Syria’s other neighboring countries. We got engaged in responding to the crisis by collaborating with the WHO and several international organizations to conduct activities in line with the goals of the Syrian crisis health sector response plan. We implemented training courses, field studies, and assessments and continue to engage in activities which support the health status of the Syrian refugees and related host communities.
A Success Story
EMPHNET built on its demonstrated success of initiatives in support of FETPs and deepened coordination with the CDC to include collaboration with various divisions of the CDC, addressing topics that include polio and immunization, zoonotic diseases, and surveillance. We engaged with other regional entities, and developed partnership with the World Health Organization-Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (WHO-EMRO). We continue to collaborate with WHO-EMRO to unify efforts in addressing public health challenges in the region, such as International Health Regulations (IHR), rapid response, and non-communicable diseases. In 2013, we became a partner of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), and continue to recruit and refer qualified individuals from the region to support the mission of GOARN to pool human technical resources for international outbreak response efforts.
We continue to bring qualified regional and international personnel to contribute to our technical, administrative, and logistic development. Although we manage to grow our stature, our initial priorities remain intact. We will deliver our capacity in the coming years with a commitment to make a difference, while continuing to improve public health in our region – a challenge that we have accepted with confidence, interest and passion.