The shortage of field epidemiologists in Uganda needed to address critical aspects of health in the public sector prompted the Uganda Ministry of Health (MoH) to establish the Uganda Public Health Fellowship Program (PHFP) in 2015. The MoH did this with the support of key partners, including Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
PHFP is an in-service, two-year, post-master’s-degree program modeled after CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service program (Advanced FETP) that aims to bridge the human resource gaps to address public health needs in the country. As part of the MoH’s long-term sustainability vision, PHFP will be a critical component of the Public Health Workforce directorate and capacity-building arm of the Uganda National Institute of Public Health (UNIPH). The program enrolls veterinarians, physicians, nutritionists, laboratorians, nurses, biostatisticians, wildlife biologists, environmentalists, and social scientists.
In 2021, an Intermediate FETP enrolled its first cohort of 17 trainees from regional referral hospitals and the national level; they are expected to graduate in April 2022. The Frontline FETP, started in 2016, complements PHFP by delivering a consolidated, competency-based curriculum and training experience over a three-month period to key district health staff responsible for disease prevention, detection, and response at the district level.
PHFP constitutes a major component of the National Rapid Response Team, which comprises the country’s frontline responders to public health emergencies. PHFP is integrated into the MoH structure, and together with the Integrated Epidemiology, Surveillance and Public Health Emergencies Department, the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre (PHEOC), and other important public health programs in the MoH, it conducts investigations and studies that provide data for decision-making for the National Task Force (NTF) for epidemic preparedness and response and MoH leadership.
Fellows have conducted both large and small-scale outbreak investigations, emergency responses, quality improvement projects, epidemiologic studies, cost analyses, surveillance evaluations, and other projects critical for the support of the goals of MoH. They have also published over 70 articles in peer-reviewed journals. Outbreaks investigated and responded to include: high priority pathogens such as viral haemorrhagic fevers, anthrax, yellow fever, influenza, meningitis, rabies, cholera, malaria, poisonings associated with relief food and fertilizers, and many others.
During the first 18 months of the COVID-19 outbreak, fellows implemented >70 COVID-related projects, providing real-time data to influence practice in COVID guidelines, prevention and control. Fellows in the program have helped the MoH initiate and evaluate point-of-care testing for HIV, case-based surveillance, and hotspot mapping. They have played a major role in supporting the MoH’s response to COVID-19 throughout the country, including airport screening, data management, contact tracing, border health protection projects, evaluations of home-based care for COVID, cluster investigations, development of case registries, mental health effects of the response on healthcare workers, and many others.
Graduates of PHFP have been engaged with work in the Ministry of Health, AFENET, Infectious Diseases Institute Uganda, Baylor Uganda, World Health Organization, US-CDC, Kampala Capital City Authority, multiple academic and research centers, and the Africa CDC.