THE SOUTH AFRICAN FIELD EPIDEMIOLOGY TRAINING PROGRAMME
In 2006, the South African Field Epidemiology Training Programme was developed as a joint collaboration between the National Department of Health (NDOH), the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), the University of Pretoria (UP) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) office in South Africa. As from 2018, the incoming cohort will be assigned to attend either the University of Pretoria (UP) or the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).
The programme is a combination of didactic and practical training in which the resident is grounded in the academic basics of applied epidemiology and is assigned to field sites where s/he learns by doing while being mentored by supervisors in projects that address key public health priorities within the respective countries and within the regions. The programme also has Frontline course targeting public health professionals in the area of surveillance at national, provincial, district and local levels. The health professionals targeted include medical officers, nurses, infection control officers, surveillance officers, and environmental health officers.
Over 80 scientific manuscripts have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals by SAFETP residents, based on their activities during the training program.
SAFETP trainees have made significant contributions in investigating and responding to numerous disease outbreaks and priority health conditions. Selected examples of significant contributions include: outbreaks of Rift Valley fever from 2008 to 2011 that led to greater collaborations with the veterinary and animal health sector, an outbreak of multi-drug resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa in a hospital in Cape Town in 2010, a diarrheal disease outbreak investigation in Free State that led to major improvements in the water treatment system, and the identification of the emergence of multi-drug resistant Candida auris fungal infections which led to the development of clinical and diagnostic guidelines for detection and investigation of future outbreaks, Listeriosis outbreak in 2017 which led to the inclusion of Listeriosis in category 1 Notifiable Medical Conditions list in South Africa.
In addition, SAFETP trainees have also assisted in responding to outbreaks in other African countries in the region. Selected examples of these include: an outbreak of typhoid in Zimbabwe from 2011 to 2012, which highlighted the role of contaminated boreholes in continued transmission, an outbreak of diarrheal illness in Swaziland in 2014, and an investigation of a cluster of hydrocephalus cases in Lesotho in 2017. Residents have also completed analytic research studies on the determinants of loss to follow-up among HIV patients in South Africa on anti-retroviral treatment enrolled in a pharmacovigilance cohort study from 2004 to 2012. The results helped bolster the strategy of community-based adherence support programs and integrated patient care that has been implemented by the South African HIV/AIDS treatment program. Residents also conducted analyses identifying risk factors for tuberculosis smear non-conversion in Western Cape Province from 2007 to 2013, helping health providers better target at-risk patients.
SAFETP trainees and graduates have also played a significant role in strengthening public health surveillance programs within the country. The trainees have contributed to the design, implementation, and evaluation of various surveillance systems at all levels of the health system within the country. In 2015, a team of six SAFETP residents and seven alumni conducted an evaluation of the National Notifiable Medical Conditions (NMC) surveillance system in the country. The findings from the evaluation have informed the re-engineering of the entire NMC surveillance system for South Africa.
In 2018, the SAFETP was accredited by the Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET) in 2018, and SAFETP Alumni association was established. To date the programme has 88 graduates, who are employed in various sectors such as public sector or ministry of health, private sector, public health institutes, Africa CDC, US CDC (in country office), other national FETPs, WHO etc. Currently, the programme has 18 residents. Several abstracts (more than 300) were accepted and presented at major scientific conferences including AFENET, TEPHINET and EIS.
ADVANCED (2 YEARS)
2021 COHORT ORIENTATION
The SAFETP staff welcomed 16 residents of cohort XIV (2021 cohort), and orientation was held from 11–15 January 2021. The cohort comprises of Veterinarians, Medical Officers, Nurses, Public Health Officers etc. The program continues to build field epidemiology capacity in neighbouring countries that do not have their FETPs. Among the 16 residents, we have residents from Lesotho and Eswatini.
SARA LOWTHER FETP AWARD
The Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Netwotwork (TEPHINET) announced the opportunity to submit proposals for a small grant supported by the Sara Lowther FETP Memorial Fund. The Sara Lowther FETP Memorial Fund supports an award for an FETP fellow or recent graduate to conduct a project that makes significant contributions to infectious disease prevention and control in their country.
Jessica Yun and Thembekile Zwane, recent graduates of the South Africa Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) were announced as the first recipients of the Sara Lowther FETP Memorial Award. The award-winning proposal is titled, “Evaluation of the CoughWatchSA application as a digital participatory surveillance platform, January-July 2021.” The project will evaluate the digital participatory surveillance platform, CoughWatchSA, specifically its ability to detect and monitor symptomatic acute respiratory illness in South Africa.
SCIENTIFIC SEMINAR JANUARY 2021
SAFETP utilises scientific seminar platforms to support residents to develop and deliver oral scientific communication outputs. The first scientific seminar was held on the 14 January 2021, using a virtual platform. Nine (9) second-year residents presented interim findings of some of the projects conducted during their field placement.
SAFETP RESPONSE TO COVID-19
Capacity-building Training: 6-8 October 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across all 52 districts of South Africa, overwhelming the health systems. SAFETP staff in collaboration with the National Department of Health (NDoH) facilitated a 3-day training on COVID-19 preparedness and response for health workers in the Northern Cape province from 6-8 October 2020. A total of 74 health workers from 4 districts, namely Francis Baard, ZF Mgcawu, Pixley ka Seme and John Taolo Gaetsewe were trained. The objectives of the training were to strengthen the districts knowledge and skills on outbreak investigations, reporting and data management processes. To emphasise the practical application of concepts, the team used a combination of teaching methods such as formal presentations, group work and computer-based exercises.
The training aimed to improve:
- Ongoing review of timeliness and completeness of COVID-19 reports from reporting sources
- Regular data quality audits, and feedback to reporting sites
- Regular analysis of surveillance data
- Regular production of surveillance summary reports
- Better use of surveillance data for district and provincial decision-making
More frequent and better case and outbreak investigations