The regularly occurring communicable disease outbreaks put substantial stress on the resource compromised national health system, said health experts on Monday.
They emphasised the need to collaborate in establishing an integrated approach towards disease surveillance and response for Polio eradication.
They were speaking at the graduation ceremony of the Pakistan Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme (FELTP), which is modeled on the pattern of the American Epidemic Investigation Service.
The ceremony for the third batch of the programme was held at the National Institute of Health (NIH). The batch comprised of fourteen people, including two from Afghanistan. The total number of disease detectives trained by FELTP Pakistan has now become 33. As many as 18 public sector medical doctors from across the country, including AJK and FATA are currently undergoing highly specialised training in field epidemiology.
FELTP Resident Adviser Dr Rana Jawad Asghar said the programme has been implemented since 2006 as a joint project of Pakistan’s National Institute of Health and the Cabinet Division and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Because of the continued patronage of the Cabinet Division and well as the provincial health departments, the graduates of the programme were successful in making significant contributions towards the national health system including surveillance and response during the outbreaks of diseases such as the Human-Avian Influenza, HIV, Polio, Dengue, Hepatitis and diarrhoeal disease etc,” he added.
Afghan Institute of Public Health Director General Dr Bashir Noor Mal said he considered this training to be a more useful addition to the Afghan health system in comparison to the ones conducted in the developed world because of shared borders, similar pathogens and health and socio-economic challenges.
Emergency Response Network Director General Health Dr Jehanzeb Khan Aurakzai apprised participants about the Cabinet Division’s initiative to strengthen health coordination through the upcoming Prime Minister’s National Health Complex.
He said the trained field epidemiologists were essential in implementing the ‘Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response System’ in the country, which was on the agenda of the ongoing US-Pak strategic dialogue.
Considering its significance in the national and international context, he urged USAID to take the measures necessary for strengthening the FELTP and initiating the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response during 2012 to help Pakistan in effectively dealing with existing and anticipated health emergencies.
FELTP officials said it also responds to the specific needs of the health departments. They stated that a total of 412 public health professionals have been trained on disease surveillance and response through dedicated short courses especially during the floods and the 2011 Dengue outbreak.
On the academic front, the graduates conducted 50 surveillance systems evaluations and presented 60 scientific presentations in peer-reviewed international conferences.
The also won the1st prize in EMPHNET (EMRO regional conferences) in 2009 and 2011 and the 2nd prize in the International TEPHINET conference held in Cape Town in 2010.
USAID Acting Mission Director Dr Nora Matdrigal said: “This subject has become the focus of international and transnational policies. The civil society, the private sector and the international stakeholders must work together to effectively deal with the challenge.”
“She added that the US government considered the FELTP a high-value programme because of its effectiveness and assured USAID’s continued assistance in the future.
“Faced with the double-disease burden, Pakistan’s health system is simultaneously challenged by the communicable and non-communicable diseases. The geographical location, topography and other environmental factors also place Pakistan among disaster prone countries. The massive earthquake of 2005, the Influenza pandemic of 2009, the floods of 2010 and the Dengue epidemic of 2011 are examples of that,” she said.