Worried by the devastating impact of infectious diseases such as Ebola, Lassa fever, yellow fever, measles, cholera and monkey pox, medical experts have called for the use of applied epidemiology to provide evidence for public health action.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, told participants, at the 4th Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)/ the Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme (NFELTP) Annual Scientific Conference, in Abuja, that there is need to build resilient health systems, and continuously work on improving them to prevent, prepare, detect, respond to and control these infectious disease outbreaks.
Ehanire, who was represented by the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Adeleke Mamora, said: “Perhaps, more than we have previously realised, the world views applied epidemiology as a critical function for public health action.
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), between 2018 and 2019, we saw two concurrent outbreaks of Ebola, occurring within weeks of each other and in geographically dispersed areas. The ongoing outbreak has led to over 2,000 deaths in a country where there are also large outbreaks of monkey pox, measles in addition to conflicts and displacement. In Nigeria, we have continued to experience large annual outbreaks of Lassa fever, cholera and measles as well as clusters of cases of yellow fever, meningitis and monkey pox.
“It is clear that changing environment and population dynamics, along with improved capability to detect infectious cases, are also increasing. Therefore, we need to build resilient health systems, and continuously work on improving them to prevent, prepare, detect, respond to and control these infectious disease outbreaks.”
The minister said a critical part of this resilient health system is the human resource- our field epidemiologists, laboratory scientists, managing physicians and nurses, programme managers and all health workers.He said the field epidemiology programme, NFELTP, now in its 11th year, with over 300 graduates and that the Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, has shown great leadership and commitment towards a sustainable training programme, led by the country.
The minister said the NCDC is the agency with the mandate to lead the implementation of the NFELTP and has continued to grow and show dedication to improve this critical programme.“I am grateful to all our partners who support this conference, and especially the US Centers for Disease Control that helped midwife the birth and still continues to support the growth of Nigeria’s FELTP. We are only as strong as our weakest link. It is in supporting each other as countries, that we are able to make progress towards stronger global health security,” he said. “The Government of Nigeria, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, has continued to show an increased commitment to strengthening health security and universal health coverage. We look forward to the output from this conference, which will be fully supported by the Nigerian government,” he added.
The conference with the theme “Applied epidemiology: Providing Evidence for Public Health Action” brought together the best minds in the field to assess the impact of field epidemiology on public health and outbreak response in Nigeria and globally, and the use of applied epidemiological methods to provide evidence for decision making to drive precise public health action.
Plenary speakers at the conference included notable thought leaders in global public health speaking on insightful topics around health security, laboratory surveillance, philanthropist interventions in health emergencies, preventing and preparing for epidemics as well as utilising social media for health emergencies.
The keynote speaker was the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib. The 4th NCDC/NFELTP Annual Scientific Conference addressed 11 main themes including outbreak investigation, emergency preparedness and response, vaccine-preventable diseases and immunisation strategies, surveillance and information management systems, neglected tropical diseases, malaria and other vector-borne diseases, risk communication, and public health systems strengthening.
Director General, NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said since 2016, the NCDC and the NFELTP has held the annual scientific conference to provide a platform for experts working in epidemiology to measure progress, identify new opportunities for real-life application of concepts, impart new knowledge and skills to advance public health science; and to reflect on lessons learnt in the country’s response to disease outbreaks and other public health priorities in Nigeria.
The epidemiologist said the NFELTP is run by the NCDC, in partnership with the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), in collaboration with the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and the University of Ibadan, with the support of the United States Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (US-CDC). The programme works with the Ministries of Health and Ministries of Agriculture at the Federal and State levels to develop public health capacity, strengthen health systems and respond to disease epidemics and other priority public health issues in the country.
Ihekweazu said since 2008, the NFELTP has recorded several success stories. During the 2014-2016 Ebola pandemic, apart from curtailing the spread locally, NCDC’s technical staff and NFELTP-trained field epidemiologists also supported other affected West African countries to successful control the pandemic. Also, the programme has been critical to Nigeria’s successful control of various disease outbreaks such as cerebrospinal meningitis, Lassa fever, measles, yellow fever, cholera, and monkey pox over the years.
He said the NCDC was established in the year 2011 in response to the challenges of public health emergencies and to enhance Nigeria’s preparedness and response to epidemics through prevention, detection, and control of communicable diseases. Its core mandate is to detect, investigate, prevent and control diseases of national and international public health importance.
Ihekweazu said: “At the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control as a science-driven organization, we continue to strive to live up to our vision as a science driven agency. Our work can only be effective if we build strong collaboration and partnership to support each other- Federal Ministries of Health and Agriculture, State governments, epidemiologists, scientists and the entire workforce that makes up health security in Nigeria.”
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