Developing Disease Detective Leaders Across the Globe

Every country needs an effective public health workforce to improve its ability to protect its citizens and rapidly detect and effectively respond to health threats and disease outbreaks.

Since 1980, CDC has helped train more than 16,000 disease detectives in over 70 countries through its flagship global Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP). FETPs expand CDC’s reach by training public health professionals to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks and other health threats. Through these programs, countries help fulfill the International Health Regulations (IHR) requirements for disease surveillance and response, and strengthen their capacity: conducting surveillance, analyzing data, and making sound evidence-based decisions. FETPs also work to address the increasingly important burden of noncommunicable diseases.

FETP graduates are CDC’s “boots on the ground” and play a critical role in ensuring global health security. They do this by strengthening the public health workforce and expanding regional and global disease detection networks available during crises. For example, FETP graduates have played key roles in responding to major health threats, including:

World map highlighting major health threats in which FETP graduates have played a key role. Earthquake recovery in Haiti; Zika virus outbreak in the Americas; Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa; Polio outbreaks in Pakistan and Nigeria; Acute encephalitis in India; Nipah virus outbreaks in Bangladesh; and MERS-CoV transmission in the Middle East, South Korea, and the Philippines.

For nearly 40 years, CDC has supported the development of FETPs and professional disease surveillance and response networks such as the Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET) and the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET). In addition to building the public health workforce, these programs and networks have helped FETP graduates stay connected while they guide and mentor the next generation of public health leaders. The FETP initiative continues to evolve and has become a sustainable part of global health security and IHR compliance.

A few FETP graduates, now in public health leadership positions, have shared their own thoughts about the program and their personal experiences.

Building Critical Skills in Decision Making and Management
China FETP Director Dr. Ma Huilai conducts an investigation of a drug contamination incident.

Ma Huilai, China

China FETP, Class of 2003
Director of China FETP

From local clinics, to provincial health departments, to China CDC, the fingerprints of FETP graduates can be found on the scene, and their impact can be felt throughout the Chinese public health system.

My FETP training was key in my development of critical thinking and communication skills. These skills have been used in emergencies, when I had to rely on effective communication with team members, leadership, and partner organizations to effectively manage and deescalate focus upon challenges. The ability to critically assess a situation and deliver a plan of response is highly valuable, and it is a skill I try to include in training China’s future FETPs. I now routinely give lectures and provide guidance to our current FETPs, with the hope of passing knowledge onto the next generation of public health leaders.

One of my greatest experiences as an FETP graduate was responding to a large drug contamination outbreak. My disease detective skills were put to the test, and knowledge I gained throughout FETP was critical in helping control the outbreak.

Training the Next Generation of Disease Detectives
David Rodriguez speaking at the Regional Workshop on Outbreak Investigation in El Salvador, in September 2019. Photo: Karen Mejia

David Rodriguez

El Salvador, Central America
FETP, Class of 2013
Coordinator of Training, COMISCA

FETP has been the most important building block in my public health career; I am in my current position because of the program. I believe in FETP because I know what it can do for people like me. I have seen the surveillance system strengthened as a result of improved work performance training. I would like to see the program continue for many years so that it is sustainable in our region.

My FETP mentors have done a lot for my colleagues and me, and I hope to do the same for the individuals I’m training now; we always keep our mentors in our minds and our hearts. We are a family in FETP!

Improving Surveillance Systems and Revolutionizing Communication
Ashenafi Ayalew at work.

Ashenafi Ayalew, Ethiopia

Ethiopia FETP, Class of 2015
Public Health Emergency Management Directorate at Amhara Public Health Institute

One of my most rewarding experience was being part of the team of FETP graduates who helped establish one of the strongest public health emergency management systems in Ethiopia. I am currently working in Amhara Regional State, which is the second most populous region in Ethiopia.

FETP graduates are making a difference in whatever location they are assigned to work. They have become a catalyst for change: enhancing communication protocols, producing key public health documents, providing pivotal feedback to leadership, and using skills developed in the program to improve disease surveillance systems.

Breaking Barriers and Building Relationships for Human and Animal Health
Dr. Mathew Muturi in the field in Kenya. Photo: Lydia Andys

Mathew Muturi

Kenya FELTP, Class of 2014
Co-director, Zoonotic Disease Unit

The Field Epidemiology Laboratory Training Program played a primary role in breaking down professional barriers and building relationships between human health and animal health colleagues. It is a driving force behind the success of the Kenya One Health Collaboration.

In Kenya, due to the previous cohort and graduate performance in the public sector, FELTP graduates are considered very competent and highly valuable. After my graduation from the program, I was tracked for a leadership position and took on a lead role in the Kenya One Health Office.

FELTP has reached a level where every government agency across Kenya appreciates the input and level of professionalism FELTP graduates bring to the table.