Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Graduation Ceremony of the First Cohort of Field Epidemiology Training Program Intermediate Fellows

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Graduation Ceremony of the First Cohort of Field Epidemiology Training Program Intermediate Fellows
March 31, 2022 | Mansion Hotel, Jinja, Uganda | (as prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon!  I am deeply honored to join you today on this special occasion to witness the graduation of the first ever cohort of the Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) Intermediate level.  I am delighted to see you again after meeting you all in August last year, when we launched this program and commissioned you into the nine-month hands-on training from which you are graduating today.  I am happy to see that the enthusiasm that I saw then is still evident, and perhaps stronger, today and I look forward to seeing how you plan to make an impact in your communities with the knowledge attained.

The United States has now worked with Uganda for almost 60 years to help build a more democratic, prosperous, and healthy Uganda. All of us deserve to live long, healthy lives—and adequate health sector staffing is a critical part of ensuring that we can achieve this.  We believe in “investing in people.”  That’s why the United States government has supported diverse in-service trainings to strengthen human resources for health.  One of the key aspects of U.S. government assistance to the Ugandan health system is training local public health professionals to help their fellow Ugandans prevent, detect, and manage disease outbreaks.

Through U.S. government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. government invests more than $500 million annually in Uganda’s health sector.  This includes funding to support in-service training programs in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other implementing partners.  Initially, in the early 2000s we focused on honing HIV program management cadres through a two-year HIV programming and leadership program that nurtured many of Uganda’s public health leaders today many of them in senior-level positions in academia, government, and non-government organizations.

But as you may well know, health service staffing shortages, especially in field epidemiology, are all too common in most low-resource countries.  We therefore strategically expanded the Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) from the two-year national-level advanced Field Epidemiology Training Program to include the nine-month regional-level and the three-month district-level FETPs.  The FETP aims to improve a country’s capacity to respond to public health emergencies across different levels of the health system.  This is the purpose of the ‘FETP pyramid,’ which strengthens the entire health system in Uganda and enables more rapid detection of and response to disease outbreaks.

The expansion of the three-tiered FETP in-service training fills critical health staffing gaps.  As such, it is so rewarding to see yet another group of skilled and talented health professionals in Uganda sharing their experiences in the much-neglected fields of surveillance, data collection, data use, and outbreak investigations.  There is no doubt you made a wise choice to join this program, and I hope you will keep the passion and take the same path of growth in your careers as many proud alumni of this program have.

For instance, the FETP Intermediate Resident Advisor, Ms. Doreen Gonahasa, a graduate of the advanced FETP program, who has ably coordinated this program.  I understand she led the rollout of this FETP Intermediate program to strengthen capacity within regional emergency operations centers and hospitals to collect, analyze, and use epidemiologic data for emergency response.  Doreen has also collaborated with the staff of the Frontline and Advanced FETP to enable cascaded mentorship across the different levels of the program. This very commendable approach is a key aspect of the pyramid model of the FETP training and improves sustainability across all levels.

Field epidemiology is now more important than ever with emerging and re-emerging diseases like Ebola and COVID-19 and yellow fever, and we need many more skilled professionals like you in public health.  I heard that fellows in this cohort worked on a group project to understand more about management of COVID-19 cases in your districts and helped make improvements.  Your efforts during and after this training will strengthen Uganda’s ability to detect and respond to public health emergencies by providing critical, timely data to inform the response.  I am also aware that you worked on investigations in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, malnutrition, and many other equally critical health challenges in our communities.

I would like to recognize the generous support of your workplace supervisors, who allowed you time to attend this program and conduct the activities and fieldwork needed to strengthen your skills.  Thank you for allowing your staff to join the program.  The dividends from having more skilled staff in public health are immeasurable and will greatly contribute to our shared success in the work that we do.  Please share your experiences with many others in your line of work, beyond today, to encourage more committed public health professionals to benefit from the program.

In closing, I am appreciative of the strong support and collaboration of the Ugandan Ministry of Health, the National Institute of Public Health, and CDC staff, who have enabled this important program to move forward.  AND to our graduates today, I thank you for your commitment and dedication that you have shown in improving your own skills to better serve your communities.  A nine-month training program like this that involves not only didactic training, but a substantial amount of fieldwork, is highly challenging, especially for busy public health staff with full-time jobs.  One must truly be committed to graduate.  I therefore join the program leadership, your mentors, work supervisors, families, and friends to say CONGRATULATIONS for making it to the end!  But remember, your work has just begun.  Go out and do good for your communities under a shared call for Safer, Healthier People.  Thank you.