It was a 35-hour journey for Prof. Dr. Aamer Ikram from Islamabad, Pakistan, to Panama City, Panama – a long way to go for a conference. For Dr. Ikram, Executive Director of Pakistan’s National Institute of Health and the Director of the Pakistan Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP), it was worth the journey.
The Panama City gathering in September was the 11th Global Scientific Conference for TEPHINET, the Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network. At the conference frontline public health workers and Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) fellows and graduates from around the world came together to share knowledge that will help tackle major health threats like the next pandemic.
This was the first in-person gathering that TEPHINET has held in over two years. The event also marked TEPHINET’s 25th anniversary, a milestone celebrating the many contributions that FETPs have made to global health and strengthening health systems around the world.
We spoke with Dr. Ikram, chair of TEPHINET’s Advisory Board, about the conference and the essential role that FETPs play in their countries and regionally. Above is a photo of Dr. Ikram moderating a panel at the 11th Global Scientific Conference for TEPHINET.
What role do you think conferences like this play in helping countries strengthen their health systems? Watch video for Dr. Ikram’s response.
What role do you think FETPs play in improving countries’ pandemic preparedness and response?
Ikram: They provide the base for disease surveillance within countries. There are thousands and thousands of examples where field epidemiologists, trained through the program, have gone out of their way for the call of the duty to deliver, and I would not only call it a service to their own country but service to humanity as the leading mission. That’s one of the core parts of FETPs—that we are there to serve humanity.
How can FETP fellows and alumni take what they’ve learned during the conference and apply it to their work back home?
Ikram: The shared knowledge they bring back home is translated into actions and implementation. Over the last 25 years, the experience coming out with TEPHINET is continuing to have an impact much beyond conferences. During this conference, we have witnessed people coming from so many different countries, hearing about whatever area they focus on, their experience, outcomes and so on. Maybe it was Zika virus, COVID-19 or something else. That helps in transferring knowledge to others and in turn translation into meaningful activities. The main aim remains to curtail the infectious diseases and then the non-communicable diseases as well. The challenges are manifold in the developing world as we talk of the transition in the developed world from infectious diseases to the non-communicable diseases. We all were caught in a very grave example of COVID-19, but it has brought a lot of learning to the international arena.
Looking back at when the first FETPs were created and TEPHINET was founded 25 years ago to today, more than two years into a pandemic, and looking ahead, how far have countries come in strengthening field epidemiology capacity and where do they need to go from here? Watch video for Dr. Ikram’s response.
As the Advisory Board Chair for TEPHINET, what is your call to action for the world?
Ikram: Cooperation, coordination and collaboration; East or West, developing or developed, countries or continents, whatever the place or scenario, we have to join hands together to make the world a much safer and healthier place.
Photos courtesy of TEPHINET
Amber Lauff, Communications Manager for TEPHINET