“One thing that has stood out for us in Nigeria is the rise of field epidemiologists as foot soldiers during outbreaks. We have seen this in every outbreak Nigeria has had to respond to over the last few years.” Ehanire said
In recent years, the world has experienced the emergence and re-emergence of infectious disease outbreaks. This includes Nigeria where outbreaks of Lassa fever, Cerebrospinal Meningitis, MonkeyPox, Cholera, etc have been reported in the last two years. The risk of future outbreaks and possible emergence of an unknown disease highlights the urgency and need to build more resilient health systems and national public health institutes.
At the 3rd Annual Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (NFELTP) scientific conference which held recently in Abuja, over 200 epidemiologists and public health practitioners convened to share their scientific work. This gathering also deliberated on the application of epidemiological methods to address public health issues in Nigeria and globally.
Currently, in its 10th year, the NFELTP program comprises of a network of highly skilled field epidemiologists who play a key role in safeguarding national and global health security. The NFELTP residents have supported NCDC in responding to over 300 public health emergencies including viral hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola, Lassa Fever, Cholera, Cerebrospinal Meningitis, Measles events among other diseases in Nigeria.
Delivering the keynote address at the conference themed: “Strengthening Health Security through Field Epidemiology”, the Honourable Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, underscored the importance of the NFELTP program while calling on stakeholders to work together, as achieving national and global health security requires a multi-sectoral approach.
“One thing that has stood out for us in Nigeria and for our sister countries in Africa is the rise of field epidemiologists as foot soldiers during outbreaks. We saw it in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone during the outbreak of Ebola where in fact many residents and graduates of the Nigeria FELTP were part of the mission. We have seen this in every outbreak Nigeria has had to respond to over the last few years. The NFELTP program is a great source of pride to the Ministry of Health and Government of Nigeria.” Ehanire said.
In his welcome address, the Chief Executive of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu reiterated the importance of stakeholders working together in Nigeria and the need to strengthen public health institutes on the continent to achieve their mandate.
“Increasingly, with the complex public health landscape, ensuring national health security is no longer limited to the government alone. Individuals, businesses, communities, academia, and all levels of government have important roles to play in protecting the health of Nigerians.” Ihekweazu said.
In the past year, the NCDC and NFELTP program has made great progress in preventing, preparing for, detecting and responding to disease outbreaks. At the conference, attendees agreed that a gap still exists in the scientific evidence required to detect new emerging diseases, with the need to strengthen this area.
The conference attracted stakeholders from the public sector, academia, and the international public health community; which includes Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC), WHO, UNICEF, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ibadan and Public Health England (PHE).
Dr. Chima Ohuabunwo, Executive Director, Africa Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), encouraged the conference attendees to leverage on the discussions from the NFELTP conference to work with relevant stakeholders to influence health policy and strengthen health security in Nigeria.