Remarks by Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Public Health Fellowship Program Graduation | Friday, January 13, 2023

Remarks by Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Public Health Fellowship Program Graduation

Speke Resort Hotel Munyonyo, Kampala | (As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon! I am deeply honored to join you today on this special occasion to witness the graduation of the seventh cohort of the Public Health Fellowship Program. This is my second PHFP graduation, and I am delighted to have been part of some of this cohort’s activities and to have met several of the fellows along the way.

I continue to hear great things about the work you do to protect the health of Ugandans, not only from COVID-19 and Ebola, but from risks across the health spectrum, including chronic diseases, air pollution, measles, malaria, birth defects, and many others. The rigorous process for applicants to be admitted to this program, including written statements, academic paperwork, and interviews with a panel of program staff, has clearly resulted in the best and the brightest fellows leading studies and recommending interventions that will benefit Ugandans for years to come.

A PHFP fellow’s journey is always a lot of work and includes diverse field experiences. But wow – that’s an understatement for this group. This cohort started the program in the middle of the first wave of COVID-19 and is finishing just after the Sudan ebolavirus response has ended. Talk about real world experience! And throughout the challenges, you demonstrated incredible flexibility and optimism. I commend and appreciate the members of Cohort 2021 – and in fact the fellows in prior cohorts as well as the graduates – who were ready to pivot to help with whatever was necessary at the time. I have no doubt that their extensive field training prepared Cohort 2021 well to face whatever public health challenges the future holds.

We celebrate the 60 years of partnership between the U.S. and Ugandan government towards a brighter future, together. This partnership spans many sectors – agriculture, business and the economy, civil society, education, arts and culture, and, of course, health, among others. This year also marks 20 years of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR, a program that Cohort 2021 has significantly contributed to with numerous studies they conducted during the fellowship. PEPFAR began in Uganda when the country suffered an unfathomable number of deaths from HIV/AIDs. Today, 20 years on, with PEPFAR’s support, Uganda is close to achieving UNAID’s ambitious 95-95-95 goals (95 percent of people diagnosed, 95 percent of those diagnosed on ART, and 95 percent of those on ART virally suppressed). And key to this progress is the support and involvement of public health fellows.

Since the PHFP started in 2015, staff from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have worked closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure the program is sustainable. PHFP and the National Public Health Emergency Operations Center are located together in Lourdel Towers, which ensures fellows are first to find out about opportunities for responses. The FETP Intermediate program, which trains health workers at the regional level, and the FETP Frontline program, which trains health workers at the district level, were also much-needed additions to ensure that staff working across the country are trained to recognize and quickly respond to outbreaks.

This year, we will launch the new PHFP-Laboratory Leadership Program, which is a sister program to the PHFP-Epidemiology track. The PHFP-Laboratory Leadership Program will train Ministry of Health staff who work in laboratories across the country. I understand we will be training fellows from both programs together. Building these linkages between epidemiologists and laboratory experts will benefit Uganda and the public health system. As we congratulate the fellows of the PHFP-Epi Cohort 2021, we welcome the pioneer cohort of the PHFP-Laboratory Leadership Program. Congratulations to you all for joining this prestigious program.

Beyond their impressive work with COVID-19 and on the Sudan ebolavirus response, we have seen today how this cohort worked on the important problems of Blackwater Fever among children, on the implementation of the hepatitis B vaccine, management of hypertension in island communities, improving mortality surveillance among adults and neonates, and many other important issues pertinent to public health in Uganda. I was also excited to see the program include wildlife-related topics, recognition of the involvement in Earth Day and Zoo Hackathon events last year to discuss the importance of zoonotic diseases and human-wildlife conflict.

The successes of the program have not gone unnoticed by the broader CDC community. During the past seven years, the program in Uganda has become one of the most successful Field Epidemiology Training Programs in the world and has received numerous recognitions for its excellence, including two awards at the May 2022 FETP International Nights. In the recent Conference of Public Health in Africa, held in Kigali last month, a Ugandan fellow won the Best Oral Presentation award.

I am appreciative of the strong support from the Ugandan Ministry of Health, which has enabled this important program to flourish. Please join me in thanking the hardworking PHFP staff for their tireless efforts in building and supporting this program. You have made PHFP the critical partner in Uganda’s public health system that it is today. I would also like to recognize that none of this work could have been accomplished without the collaborations with our important colleagues in Uganda, including those at:

  • the National Animal Disease Diagnostics and Epidemiology Centre,
  • the Infectious Diseases Institute,
  • Baylor Uganda,
  • Mildmay Uganda,
  • the Division of National Health Laboratory and Diagnostic Services and Central Public Health Laboratories,
  • the Uganda Virus Research Institute,
  • and so many others.

I am delighted to see that many of the alumni are already taking up key positions in the Ministry of Health, including staffing our FETP programs across all three levels of the fellowship training programs and with CDC and partner organizations. This attests to the importance and value of the program and the quality of its graduates.

I urge the fellows to build on these experiences to carry on the mantle of preventing, detecting, and responding to disease outbreaks and improving public health. I hope we can deploy many of you not only here in Uganda but also to other countries affected by outbreaks. And as you advance in your careers, I also urge you to invest in the professional development of those following you. At each FETP event I’ve attended, we’ve had side conversations about a desire for and the importance of mentorship. So, for all the graduates, I call on you to be for the next generation of public health specialists the mentors you wished you during the various stages of your careers. I will close by again thanking you all for the work you do. I am honored to welcome the new cohort of “disease detectives.” Your efforts have helped save lives and improve the health of the people of Uganda. We look forward to continuing to work hard together with new and continuing fellows, with the Uganda Ministry of Health, and with the graduates of Cohort 2021 whom we are honoring today. Congratulations and thank you.