By Dr. Dionisio Herrera Guibert, Director of TEPHINET
I recently attended a graduation ceremony in Haiti for 25 field epidemiologists who completed a training program in detecting and responding to Zika outbreaks in their communities. It was an honor to participate in this ceremony along with Dr. Patrick O’Carroll who leads our health systems strengthening sector at The Task Force for Global Health.
Since Zika became a public health emergency last year, TEPHINET has been supporting these training programs in countries throughout Latin America as part of a regional strategy to fight the disease. Zika is now endemic in Haiti and many other countries in Latin America.
The Haiti group is one of the first cohorts of disease detectives to complete the Frontline Surveillance Training on Zika virus and detection. The three-month program is integrated into the country’s field epidemiology training program (FETP) curriculum, which equips frontline health workers with the knowledge and skills to address disease outbreaks.
In the Zika training program, trainees learn how to detect and report cases of Zika infection in pregnant women. This includes identifying signs of developmental delays and birth defects such as microcephaly in newborns that could be attributed to Zika. These activities help ensure that pregnant women and newborns receive appropriate care and increase the likelihood of controlling outbreaks at their sources.
All trainees work for Haiti’s public health system. Their expertise in Zika detection and response make them an extraordinary force for an effective public health response to the disease.
TEPHINET is supporting the development of nine Frontline Surveillance Training programs across Latin America. Other efforts are focused on building laboratory capacity to detect Zika through blood and urine tests and to monitor mosquitoes that may carry the virus.
Haiti’s experience serves as a model for building–in a relatively short time period–the human resource capacity to respond to public health emergencies. With Zika expected to remain endemic in Latin America, these frontline surveillance programs will be critical to building the region’s capacity for detecting and containing outbreaks.