FELTP Graduates Contribute to COVID-19 Response in Georgia

Contributed by the Georgian FELTP Alumni Association and Dr. Levan Gabelaia

Photo courtesy of the Georgian FELTP Alumni Association


On January 6, 2020, the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs reported to the Government of Georgia the outbreak of a still unknown epidemic in China. The Georgian Government responded by developing immediate and specific measures, as well as by initiating the investigation and continuous monitoring of relevant international practice. From the very early days of the pandemic, the Georgian authorities directed their efforts in two directions, aiming to save both the health and lives of the people, as well as the national economy.

Based on the recommendations issued and the experience available at that point, countries began implementing a number of non-pharmaceutical measures in response to the spread of COVID-19, such as: closing educational institutions and transitioning the educational process to a remote mode of operation, banning mass and public gatherings, restricting individual economic activities, physical distancing, and declaring a state of emergency throughout the country, which included the implementation of strict quarantine measures and a curfew.

After the first case of infection was reported in Georgia on February 26, 2020, new cases, clusters, and associated contacts were identified, and their epidemiological oversight, isolation, quarantine, diagnosis, and treatment was ensured. At the same time, the population was systematically provided with information concerning the recommendations developed at the international level.

The National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) has been playing an important role in Georgia's response against COVID-19. Responsibilities of the Center, among others, involve preparedness and response measures. These include real-time epidemiological surveillance, management of novel coronavirus laboratory diagnostics and supervision of compliance with standards, epidemiological surveillance over confirmed and suspected cases, tracing, isolation recommendations, and monitoring.

More than 90 percent of the Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP) graduates are employees of NCDC and were involved in the response to COVID-19 from day one, and in collaboration with representatives of other entities and under the strong leadership of NCDC Top Management, Georgia has only 15 deaths out of 926 confirmed cases.

Below, a few graduates share their experiences in their own words.

As a coordinator for the Kvemo Kartli region, I was involved in sample collection and testing from day one. My main goal was to train clinicians and public health agency representatives in the region to collect and send samples to the laboratory. I am extremely proud of how my country responded to such a challenge and knowing that I and my colleagues had positive input in saving lives makes me feel blessed.

– Pikria Shavreshiani, FELTP Cohort 5

Correct information gives you a strong base [from which] to prepare and respond. I was involved in COVID-19 response from day one; collecting samples from high-risk areas, preparing educational materials, and conducting trainings for clinics and public health centers, as well as the general population, on how to fight COVID-19. I designed an online thematic exhibition at the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia: ‘Doctors and Health Care Workers in the Fight with COVID-19’. This is just a small part of what my colleagues and I did during the pandemic, but the most important work was providing assistance to the families with children with disabilities. I was not only providing information to the families regarding safety measures during the pandemic, but I also requested special permits during the quarantine for the families so that children with autism would be able to spend more time outside, which is essential for them.

– Nino Buadze, FELTP Cohort 5

On March 23, the Marneuli and Bolnisi municipalities went into lockdown with high numbers of COVID-19 positive cases, and people did not fully understand the risks, but our team worked hard to collect samples and explain the danger of not following implemented safety measures. We worked long hours in protective suits. We were tired and exhausted, but suddenly, I saw the face of my colleague, who winked at me and said, ‘everything going to be all right’. It is great to have a professional next to you when you are in such a risky situation, and you know that she is a pro, because you went through FELTP together.

–Mariam Izoria and Maya Makharadze, FELTP Cohort 8