CDC and WHO Commit to Lead the FETP Enterprise

The “FETP Enterprise.” No, it’s not a Star Trek reference. Coined in 2018, this phrase describes the vast multi-partner undertaking that is the development, implementation, and evaluation of Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETPs) across more than 100 countries.

During their keynote addresses at the 10th TEPHINET Global Scientific Conference in October 2019, Dr. Rebecca Martin of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization (WHO) formally launched the FETP Enterprise before a gathering of approximately 600 field epidemiologists and other public health professionals from more than 80 countries. Martin, who is the director of the CDC Center for Global Health, and Ryan, who is the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, announced publicly for the first time that they would serve as the co-chairs of a new Strategic Leadership Group (SLG) whose mission is to provide a driving force for progress for the whole FETP Enterprise.

“The world sees value in FETP, and now we see more countries wanting to have FETP…we see partners wanting to engage in FETP as a sustainable and important program for building the public health workforce in countries in efforts to prevent, detect and respond [to diseases],” said Martin during her address.

Martin shared examples of the impact that FETP, which started as a CDC program and retains strong CDC support, has had on building strong health systems globally and noted that FETP can help countries address the public health threats of the future arising from insecurity and conflict, environmental changes, urbanization, and the rise of non-communicable diseases.

“We need to predict, we need to plan, and we need to act. We need to make sure we have sustainable FETP programs in countries and that there is a career path for FETP colleagues and graduates to ensure that the health systems are built, and this is critical work.”

Ryan was unable to attend the conference in person but provided a video address in which he expressed strong WHO support for the vision of the FETP Enterprise.

“This vision aligns closely with the vision of WHO, and we’re very happy to be associated with [it] and participate,” said Ryan, who is an alumnus of EPIET, the FETP for the European Union (hosted by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [ECDC]).

He added, “I am honored by the request to act and proud to serve. I’m personally committed to promoting and supporting field epidemiology training efforts in any way that I can, especially given that I’m a product of such programs.”

The concept of the FETP Enterprise and the formation of the SLG took shape during a meeting held in Bellagio, Italy, in June 2018 to clarify the collective path forward for FETPs. For nearly 40 years, CDC, WHO and other partners have supported the development of FETPs as a strategy to build a strong public health workforce capable of detecting and responding to health threats. Today, with more than 80 programs, more than 16,000 graduates from all three program levels (basic, intermediate and advanced), and numerous stakeholders, the FETP Enterprise is a complex initiative to sustain and grow, yet doing so has never been more important.

“This [FETP] model is a model that can be applied across many of the other disciplines in public health,” said Ryan during his video address. “Epidemiology training programs are a beacon of standardization of quality, of commitment, for many other health system deliverables.”

The Bellagio meeting, convened by TEPHINET’s parent organization, The Task Force for Global Health, included participants at the forefront of global field epidemiology training. Together, these 19 leaders examined FETP sustainability, governance, and other critical issues and created the Global Field Epidemiology Roadmap, which outlines seven recommendations for the FETP Enterprise (the group added an eighth recommendation in February 2019). The Roadmap also defines the overarching vision of the FETP Enterprise: “Every country in the world has the applied epidemiology capacities needed to protect and promote the health of its own population, and to collaborate with others to promote global health.”

These eight recommendations are as follows:

  1. A broadly representative SLG should be established to provide a driving force for progress for the FETP Enterprise.
  2. The SLG should continually monitor and assure needed improvements and changes in the FETP Enterprise.
  3. The SLG should promote the development of applied epidemiology workforce targets.
  4. The SLG should assure the development of a cadre of specially-trained FETP fellows and alumni available for rapid response to health emergencies.
  5. The SLG should work with country partners to accelerate the rate at which FETPs become fully institutionalized.
  6. The SLG should continue, strengthen, and expand efforts to assure and improve the quality of FETPs.
  7. The SLG should promote and work to assure sustainable funding for all elements of the global FETP Enterprise.
  8. The SLG should foster enhanced alignment and integration of the FETP Enterprise with key global health programs and priorities.

In February 2019, The Task Force for Global Health convened a follow-up meeting at WHO headquarters in Geneva to begin operationalizing these recommendations. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, attended a portion of this meeting.

Now that the co-chairs of the SLG have expressed their commitment to lead, work is underway to establish the group’s composition and determine how it should relate to existing FETP leadership groups and processes.

“What’s significant is the high-level CDC and WHO commitment to the Global Field Epidemiology Roadmap,” says Dr. Carl Reddy, TEPHINET Director. “For the first time ever, we received direct comments from the WHO Director-General. This reinforces that FETP is a crucial means of reaching global health goals.”