The idea of launching a program for post-graduate studies on epidemiology came into being in 1989. This was mainly due to the necessity of the Ministry of Health to support the preventive medicine divisions, either within the Ministry's Agency for Public Health departments or in health regions, with highly qualified and well-trained Saudi professionals in the field of epidemics detection and control who can lead in the development of preventive programs for communicable and non-communicable diseases. Thus, the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and King Saud University in Riyadh initiated the Field Epidemiology Training Program, now affiliated with the Ministry's Agency for Public Health. The FETP is accredited by the Saudi Commission of Health Specialties.
The Diploma in Field Epidemiology (DFE) is one of the main teaching activities of the FETP. DFE is a postgraduate diploma awarded by King Saud University College of Medicine in Riyadh and is recognized as equivalent to a master’s degree by the Saudi Council for Health Specialties, Ministry of Health and Bureau of Civil Services.
Since its beginning, the FETP is regularly participating in the Hajj. Each year an epidemiological team from the FETP, comprising faculty members and DFE residents, visit Makkah and Minna as part of the preventive medicine team of the Ministry of Health. The team conducts field studies and participates in epidemiologic investigations and surveillance of health problems during hajj. Hajj studies are designed in line with the experiences acquired during previous hajj seasons. The aim of these studies is to prevent the appearance of certain epidemic diseases and evaluate the variety of preventive health services in Hajj.
In addition to the teaching and training activities of the Diploma in Epidemiology (DFE), Master Public Health (MPH) and Saudi Board in Community and Family Medicine, FETP is also actively organizing short training courses in different regions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These are three- to five-day trainings which are need-based and customized to address a specific area of public health. These trainings cover a wide range of health professionals in the Ministry of Health including medical consultants, specialists, physicians, health inspectors, technicians and other technical staff. Training topics include research methodology, basic data management using EpiInfo and SPSS software, and epidemiological studies, among others.
Outbreak investigation is one of the important field activities of the FETP. Notice of any outbreak in the Kingdom is given to the FETP, whose outbreak teams respond immediately. The team also includes one or two DFE residents who actively participate in the investigation under the supervision of the senior staff. This provides a hands-on experience for the DFE residents to conduct such investigation. The outbreak report is prepared and submitted to the Ministry of Health immediately.
Since 1993, the FETP has published a quarterly scientific periodical (the Saudi Epidemiology Bulletin). This bulletin includes the results of epidemiological studies conducted by the staff and residents of the Field Epidemiology Training Program. So far, 19 volumes of this bulletin have been published.
The Field Epidemiology Training Program provides a basic contribution to national capacity-building in preventive medicine and public health. It contributes to the training of physicians in preventive medicine, public health and epidemiology through the Field Epidemiology Diploma. So far, the program has graduated 29 batches with the field epidemiology diploma. The total number of graduates reached 143, of which there are fourteen graduates from the Omani Ministry of Health. The rest are the Saudis working in the different health regions of the country. In addition to its diploma program, the FETP also participates in teaching and training for a master's of public health in cooperation with King Saud University and the Saudi Preventive Medicine Board. A series of short training courses on epidemiology and statistical analysis in various regions of Saudi Arabia are also conducted on regular basis. A wide range of epidemiological studies are carried out on an annual basis.
The FETP has made fundamental and effective contributions to the nationwide control of many epidemics, for example, the Rift Valley fever epidemic of 1999-2000, the 2005 avian flu (H1N1) epidemic, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-COV) epidemic in 2012-2013, and others. In addition, FETP is involved in the implementation of field surveys and epidemiological surveillance during each Hajj season. The program is also taking part in developing a number of national preventive programs with participation in a number of the national research studies conducted by the Public Health Agency. A periodic activity report on the activities and achievements of the FETP is submitted to the Deputy Minister for Public Health on a regular basis. In addition, a number of publications have been issued, the most important of which is the Saudi Epidemiological Bulletin, a quarterly publication by the FETP summarizing epidemiological studies conducted by the program.
Over the last three years and in collaboration with the Saudi Epidemiology Association and other partners, the FETP hosted two conferences (the 1st and 2nd Saudi Epidemiology Conferences in Jeddah and Riyadh). Moreover, each year the FETP faculty and residents regularly participate in national and international conferences, i.e., FETP International Night in Atlanta (as part of celebrating the CDC's commitment to global health) and the 6th EMPHNET Regional Conference in Amman. In addition, there is growing collaboration with the CDC, and the program is working on providing a permanent CDC expert within it.