“For a country where 3.5 million people a year are infected with communicable diseases such as influenza, cholera, typhoid, dengue and meningitis, the lack of trained epidemiologists can put immense strain on Vietnam’s health system and seriously hamper its socioeconomic development,” the statement said.
The FETP, which exists in over 50 countries around the world, was established by Vietnam’s Ministry of Health in 2008 in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other international partners.
“FETP is designed to meet the real need of disease investigation, prevention and control in Vietnam,” said Dr Phan Trong Lan, Ministry of Health Programme director.
“Today we are seeing the realisation of many years of hard work, with the graduation of today’s class. We have the first of a new cohort of better trained and well informed epidemiologists who can be our nation’s disease fighters,” he said.
The training was launched in August 2009 and is a two-year, on-the-job fellowship programme which recruits key epidemiological staff across Vietnam.
Fellows enrolled in the first class received 12 weeks of classroom-based teaching and 15 months of rigorous, hands-on involvement in field epidemiological investigations.
FETP fellows spent much of their time investigating outbreaks such as cholera, pandemic influenza A(H1N1), avian influenza A(H5N1), rabies, hantavirus, dengue and human plague in provinces across Vietnam.
In addition to providing rapid disease surveillance and response, the fellows have had their work published in international scientific conferences and medical journals.
In recent years, Vietnam has been affected by newly emerging infectious diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), H5N1, H1N1 and hand foot and mouth disease.
“The FETP fellows will help strengthen Vietnam’s public health system to respond to disease outbreaks in order to minimize the negative impacts both at national and global levels,” said Dr. Graham Harrison, acting WHO representative in Vietnam.