The Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP), led by the National Institute of Health of Colombia, was created in 1992 with the support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States. It received TEPHINET accreditation in 2018, becoming the first Spanish-speaking country to do so, thus joining the major leagues of epidemic response teams in the world along with programs in the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, and Canada, which are also accredited.
The objectives of the program are to improve public health workers’ skills in responding to outbreaks and health emergencies, and to build capacity in collection, analysis, interpretation, communication and use of data from health surveillance systems for decision-making.
The program implements the three-level “pyramidal” training model for field epidemiology. Over the past 29 years, it has trained more than 3,000 people locally, nationally and internationally. A total of 2,446 people have undertaken the program’s basic (Frontline) and intermediate level training. The program’s advanced level training occurs over a period of two years and is the oldest component of the FETP. A total of 173 professionals from different regions of Colombia and the world have trained at the advanced level.
The FETP implemented an intermediate level in February 2021 through a nine-month pilot training. Ten trainees undertook this level through face-to-face and virtual training, which incorporated prevention and control strategies and measures to avoid transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at the national and territorial levels.
The Frontline (or basic) level was implemented in 2017 with the aim of strengthening competencies in epidemiological surveillance at the territorial level. In total, 42 Frontline cohorts have graduated 564 personnel in charge of carrying out public health surveillance in health secretaries of the district and departmental order, including professionals of the Military Forces of the country (National Army, Air Force and National Navy).
The program’s professionals-in-training have conducted more than 480 outbreak investigations in communities, prison populations, and military forces. They have led the public health response to emergencies such as HIV (1992), Venezuelan equine encephalitis (1994), cholera (1991-2), rabies (2002; 2007), measles (2002; 2018), AH1N1 influenza (2009), chikungunya (2014), Zika (2016) and COVID-19 (2019). In addition, they have responded to natural disasters such as the Armenia earthquake (1999), the winter emergency (2011), the Mojana floods (2016) and the Mocoa avalanche (2017) and the most recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Trainees have implemented and evaluated nearly 160 public health surveillance systems during their training and have participated in important processes such as the strengthening of the Public Health Surveillance System (SIVIGILA) for acute respiratory infections, polio, measles, rubella, rabies, leptospirosis, Zika, healthcare-associated infections, environmental health, external injuries, and COVID-19. The program also developed the CoronApp mobile application used to strengthen the monitoring of public health risks associated with coronavirus.
The program’s participants are recognized internationally and nationally as the frontline health workforce that responds to public health emergencies in Colombia. This has allowed for joint work with the governing body for field interventions in situations with high health risks. Territorial health entities, as well as political leaders and local decision makers, develop their most important field activities in collaboration with personnel trained by the FETP and recognize their leadership in health intervention issues, which has allowed the development of field research studies.