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AFENET convenes in Nairobi, discusses lessons from Covid-19 pandemic and future plans

With now some ease in the Covid-19 pandemic, the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) is seeking to diffuse the experience in the COVID-19 response across 34 Sub-Saharan countries with the aim of laying out new strategies for innovation to better respond to future health emergencies.

In a five-day meeting from 6-10 June 2022, program directors, resident advisors, regional technical coordinators, project coordinators, and the AFENET management converged in Nairobi to discuss the future of the organization.

While AFENET is coming up with innovative solutions to support more ministries of health to improve disease response and outbreak investigation, there is a need to strengthen the AFENET base and business model by adapting other initiatives to support and upscale the organization’s goal.

Speaking at the start of the meeting, the Board Chair, and Program Director for Ghana, Prof. Ernest Kenu said, "AFENET is a dynamic organization and we must understand how effectively we can implement our business model. AFENET is in the limelight because of something you are doing. Our vision is to make AFENET a household name in Africa because of the impact on disease response. AFENET has participated in several epidemics and outbreaks in the region."

The AFENET Director Dr Simon Antara observed that the COVID-19 pandemic deprived the AFENET family of the opportunity to meet people face to face, during which more than six million people died from the disease including two colleagues from the Ethiopia FELTP and South Sudan FETP. 

He added: “Despite all this, we have the principal objective of working to expand FETPs in sub-Saharan, Africa. We have moved from 4 to 16 advanced FELTPs and now more frontline and intermediate FETPs. We are making move into Bostwana and the Central Africa region: Chad and the Central Africa Republic. We are emphasizing continuous quality improvement and assurance to ensure the quality of the FETP graduate is maintained.”

The Chief of the U.S. CDC’s Workforce and Institute Development Branch, Dr. Kip Baggett, said, “the CDC is partnering with the WHO health workforce department to define and showcase how public health workforce, specifically field epidemiologists, could be classified and counted in accordance with international standards and initiatives such as International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-08) and National Health Workforce Accounts (NHWA) and to build sustainable capacity in countries to record and use data on public health workforce through progressive implementation of NHWA.”

CDC specifically hopes to create definitions and classifications for field epidemiology functions at district and national levels in alignment with international standards, and measurements of field epidemiologists within global initiatives. It is hoped that the FETP model will align with the national workforce capacity manual.

Day of the retreat had 46 participants and AFENET management members made presentations from their departments: operations, finance, and risk management. These were followed by country presentations and sharing their experiences on growth in the last few years.