TEPHINET translates epidemiology from theory to practice. It ensures health information is disseminated through organizing conferences where professional networks are established, best health practices are shared, and research collaborations are made. Global partnerships ensure that countries with struggling surveillance systems are supported by those with more established systems. During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, epidemiologists and public health officers from several countries worked together to end the epidemic. TEPHINET’s work captures the attention of those who are capable of influencing health events for the better, including academic scholars, health practitioners, policy makers, and funders, among others.
Through research, epidemiologists generate evidence on which populations are susceptible to disease so that interventions are context-specific. Policies have been made and programmes designed as a result of this epidemiological evidence. For example, a policy brief written on yellow fever in Uganda, following repeated outbreaks, informed the decision to consider adding the yellow fever vaccine into the country's routine immunization schedule.
Field epidemiologists, through their interactions with communities, bring health services closer to the people. In the community, there are higher chances of identifying disease before it progresses to advanced states with poor clinical outcomes. Through these interactions, appropriate and timely referrals are made. By facilitating early disease diagnosis, epidemiologists help to reduce the financial, psychological and social burden of treating advanced disease. These informal community interactions where epidemiologists explain complex disease concepts to people in simple ways make communities more receptive to government programs.
In previous years, epidemics in Uganda, such as Ebola and yellow fever, registered high case fatality rates. Thanks to TEPHINET, people are equipped with skills in outbreak response so that successive outbreaks in Uganda have had lower death rates. TEPHINET enables creation of resilient health systems that are able to prevent deaths. Disease surveillance programs provide an effective means of monitoring diseases, such that epidemics can be stopped at their inception to prevent international disasters. When global disaster strikes, like it did with the emergence of COVID-19, epidemiologists are on the frontlines working to provide guidance to other sectors including industry, business, tourism and education.
While we live in an era of emerging and re-emerging diseases, there are also campaigns in place to eliminate or eradicate certain diseases. Epidemiologists are often at the center of these campaigns and other public health interventions such as vaccination and quarantine; thus, they help to prevent disease spread. TEPHINET activities help demystify diseases such as COVID-19 through provision of accurate information. Epidemiologists often work in situations where they are at high risk of acquiring deadly infections like Ebola, H1N1 and COVID-19, but they do not relent. They risk their lives for public safety. Thanks to field epidemiologists, the world’s people can go about their business knowing that there are frontline workers dedicated to fighting infectious diseases that threaten human existence in the 21st century.
Stella Martha Migamba is a field epidemiologist at the Uganda Public Health Fellowship Program, Ministry of Health.