Following the conclusion of the Seventh EMPHNET Regional Conference, the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) directors and their support teams convened for the semi-annual FETP Board of Directors meeting held on November 19, 2021.
Hosted at the Landmark Hotel in Amman, the meeting saw representation from Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen’s FETPs, as well as Afghanistan FETP which was represented virtually.
The meeting was commenced by the Chairperson of the FETP Board of Directors Dr. Sahar El Shourbagi who welcomed the participants. Her opening remarks were then followed by a speech given by GHD|EMPHNET Executive Director, Dr. Mohannad Al Nsour who stated the meeting’s objectives. In his remarks, Dr. Al Nsour also took the opportunity to commend the region’s FETPs for their instrumental contributions to their countries’ COVID-19 response efforts, while further reiterating GHD|EMPHNET ‘s commitment to continue supporting the region.
Following Dr. Al Nsour’s speech, GHD|EMPHNET Senior Technical Advisor, Dr. Yousef Al-Gaud gave a presentation about the FETPs' achievements in the EMR and their contributions to public health. During his presentation, Dr. Al-Gaud also highlighted GHD| EMPHNET's Initiatives to support FETPs.
He confirmed that the Center of Excellence for Applied Epidemiology (CEAE) at GHD|EMPHNET is committed to enhancing workforce capacity in applied epidemiology and that it achieves this goal by supporting ministries of health in establishing new FETPs in the region. He added that the CEAE will continue to offer educational learning resources set to enrich the FETP curricula and provide long-life learning opportunities.
He added that GHD|EMPHNET offered three online courses covering; risk communication, rapid response, and infection control to support country programs in their COVID-19 response efforts, while also offering other COVID-19 related support activities. He also introduced the different Knowledge Exchange and Networking initiatives introduced by GHD|EMPHNET to enhance the exchange of experiences and lessons learned and to increase visibility for the work of FETPs. These initiatives include the EMPHNET Internship Program ENGAGE, the FETP Exchange Program, the EMPHNET WEBi Series, the biannual EMPHNET Regional Conference, and the EMPHNET E-library (EEL), and EMPHNET’s networking platform EpiShares amongst others.
He ended his presentation by stating that GHD|EMPHNET’s future plans for the region’s FETPs will continue to offer support in the area of operational research, capacity building, and knowledge exchange and networking.
From his end, Workforce Capacity Team Leader at GHD|EMPHNET Dr. Haitham Bashier presented the anticipated strategic direction for FETPs in the region. He said that strategic areas of focus for GHD|EMPHNET in support of FETPs include; ensuring increased knowledge of the importance of field epidemiology to health security among global and national partners and stakeholders, increased preparedness and involvement of FETPs in outbreak investigations, disaster response, and field epidemiology activities, increased cross-border and regional capacity for surveillance, detection and response, increased coordination, communication, and collaboration among country FETPs and regional FETP networks, and increased established workgroups to develop a governance structure, systems, and mechanisms that result in coordinated common goals and objectives at country and regional levels.
During the meeting, more presentations were also given by the region’s FETP Directors, advisors, and support teams. In these presentations, specific achievements and challenges were highlighted by each presenter. From these presentations, it was seen that most challenges experienced by country programs are related to; lack of funding for sustainability, lack of availability of skilled mentors, and finally the need for more support in the area of research and research publication.
The meeting ended with plans made to develop a research priorities agenda that will engage all countries to participate towards filling existing gaps. It was also stated that a quarterly meeting will be arranged by GHD|EMPHNET for all FETP directors, advisors, and support teams. This meeting will offer opportunities for participants to discuss needs and improve the harmonization among countries.
GHD|EMPHNET will also be developing mentors' training materials which will be converted into an online course to ensure more availability of skilled mentors for FETPs. Furthermore, GHD|EMPHNET will also be supporting countries in their preparations for accreditation. Other ideas discussed during the meeting included having a monthly bulletin about GHD|EMPHNET initiatives for FETPs, supporting country programs in creating their newsletters, and their research.
The meeting was thus deemed an ideal space to discuss the future and the way forward for the region’s FETP.