The Gambian Field Epidemiology Training Program (GamFETP-F) began in 2015/2016 as a collaboration between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC) and the Gambian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW). Though the U.S. CDC only has initial funding for training of frontline surveillance officers for two years, the training is supposed to continue to train surveillance officers at the three levels of FETP training. With this in view, U.S. CDC has worked closely with MOHSW, as a primary partner, and the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) to establish a sustainable FETP-Frontline in The Gambia.
The program is situated within the MOHSW as assistance is provided by the U.S. CDC Atlanta office with the active participation of its implementing and technical partner AFENET providing in-country implementation of the training. Therefore, CDC and AFENET have leveraged their technical expertise and collaboration with the MOHSW, through FETP-Frontline, to start strengthening and building workforce capacity for field epidemiology in The Gambia as stipulated in the HSEPRP (December 2016) of the MOHSW of The Gambia.
The first cohort of 25 trainees were enrolled on August 1, 2016 after a stakeholders’ meeting in April 2016. Frontline training has continued since then. After U.S. CDC’s funding expired in September 2017, AFENET along with the MOHSW continued with the training with funds sourced from the World Health Organization, the West African Health Organization and Africa CDC.
Within two years of active implementation, the GamFETP has created competence in interventional epidemiology at the central level and wide coverage of the country’s district surveillance system with surveillance, investigation and response capacity officers acquiring necessary knowledge and supervised practice for effective public health action. This places epidemiologic competence and surveillance close to the action in peripheral units (districts and health facility levels) providing the solution to an effective and efficient surveillance system.
Before the commencement of GamFETP, there were no District Surveillance Officers (DSOs) thereby preventing a consistent flow of surveillance information from health facilities and communities to the regional surveillance offices. The local responsibilities for surveillance and case investigations had no designated officers, and therefore surveillance activities were not dutifully conducted and strictly monitored. Consequently, as part of the implementation of FETP-Frontline, AFENET advised the MOHSW to designate some Public Health Officers in the country as District Surveillance Officers (DSOs). The MOHSW designated these officers and re-designated others at the regional level. These officers have now been trained in Frontline epidemiology giving them a basic understanding and competence in surveillance and the epidemiologic process.
Accordingly, a coordinated approach has been designed. The Frontline field epidemiology training is currently ongoing to enhance the emergency preparedness and response capacity of the health workforce by strengthening surveillance activities in rural and district areas. Seven cohorts have been trained comprising 198 national, regional, district and health facility public health officers along with clinicians and health workers in the service arms (Army, Police, Fire and Prison).