The regional Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) came into effect in Central America in 2000 as a response of the United States government under the leadership of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to strengthen surveillance and outbreak investigation in countries affected by Hurricanes Mitch and George that affected the region in 1998.
Discussion between the Ministry of Health and Wellness of Belize and the regional office of the CDC in Guatemala (CDC-CAP) initiated in 2009 with the proposal to pilot the FETP in Belize. It was agreed that Basic Level training will be supported in-country and additional training to advance to the intermediate and advanced level would be provided by Universidad del Valle in Guatemala.
Funds to launch this pilot came about in 2010 and were administered by the CDC-CAP and allowed the development of the first basic level cohort in country. The Centre for Public Health Preparedness of the University of North Carolina (UNC), participated in the pilot to provide oversight of the training and application of these training materials. They revised and adjusted these products and were delivered to the CDC/FETP in the development of the curriculum of the basic level FETP English version. This material was later translated into Spanish and implemented by countries in the region.
The 2010 pilot FETP in Belize was considered successful, and this prompted the Ministry of Health and Wellness to endorse and continue the training and by 2015, the Belize FETP became a member of TEPHINET. The goal of the Belize FETP is to build capacity among health professionals so they can be involved in surveillance, to respond to public health events in a precise manner in order to mitigate the effects of such events. The output will be the development of a qualified workforce to lead and handle major public health events in the country and to provide support to the decision-making process.
Belize is a part of REDCEC and since we were unable to provide advanced training, the Universidad del Valle (UVG) of Guatemala, was the selected university to provide intermediate and advanced level training to our basic level students. Up to date, we have trained a total of 76 students in basic level of which 11 have completed the intermediate level and five of these have completed the advanced level.
The Belize FETP is hosted by the Ministry of Health and Wellness within the Epidemiology Unit, which is an advantage since the unit provides access to data for surveillance analysis and also addresses the data quality issues which is also an activity that forms part of the deliverables for the students.
Additionally, because there are limited graduates, they function as tutors and mentors. The distribution of these graduates is strategic which allows for mentoring of students at the workplace.
Each cohort which is an average of 10 students (allows two student per mentor), has produced deliverables which have been selected for presentation at the national, regional and international conferences.