JAKARTA, 1 June 2020 – The ASEAN Plus Three Field Epidemiology Training Network (ASEAN+3 FETN) is conducting a series of informal video-conferences to exchange experiences on the latest developments of national responses to COVID-19 outbreaks and how field epidemiologists played important roles in implementing these responses.

ASEAN+3 FETN is one of the subsidiary bodies of the ASEAN Health Cluster 2 on Responding to All Hazards and Emerging Threats. Contact points of the network consists of Field Epidemiology Training Programmes (FETP) of the ten ASEAN Member States together with China, Japan and Republic of Korea (i.e. Plus Three Countries).

Malaysia, as chair of the network, led the informal video conferences represented by the Epidemic Intelligence Programme (EIP) of Malaysia’s Health Ministry Dr. Thilaka Chinnayah. ASEAN+3 FETN Coordinating Office in Thailand hosted the video conferences through its knowledge sharing platform.

China: learning by doing

The first of the informal video conference was held on 11 May. China FETP director Dr. Ma Huilai and Respiratory Infectious Diseases of China’s Centres for Diseases Control  chief Dr. Feng Luzhao jointly shared their FETP graduates and trainees’ experiences who were deployed to different parts of the country and assumed critical roles in public health sector to help address the COVID-19 outbreak in China.

They exchanged information on existing surveillance and/or outbreak investigation plans and how these were applied in the COVID-19 response. In the development of field epidemiologists, they further emphasised learning by doing as a crucial approach to training and education, and to increasing the epidemiology workforce.

During the video conference, participants also shared information on their countries’ plan in resuming work or public activities. They noted on the critical importance of early and quick response to any kind of outbreak in order to mitigate its impact to public health, economy and society, and highlighted real-time information sharing as equally important.

All participants pledged to strengthen collaboration for prevention and control unforeseen outbreak through the ASEAN+3 FETN and other ASEAN Health sector platforms.

Cambodia: field epidemiologists are key

The second informal video conference was conducted on 26 May. It focused on Cambodia’s experience in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak and the contributions of their field epidemiologists in the response.

The Deputy Director of Cambodia Health Ministry’s Communicable Disease Control Department Dr. Yi Sengdoeun provided a summary of the comprehensive and strategic measures implemented by the country which, except for two imported cases reported last week, has not detected new cases from local communities since 13 April .

He added that graduates and trainees of Cambodia’s FETP, locally known as Applied Epidemiology Training Programme, have been involved in screening and surveillance especially at points of entry.

He noted that one of the key elements in the prevention and control of the COVID-19 outbreak at border areas was the presence of field epidemiologists at provincial level working and engaging closely with communities.

Malaysia: mobilised graduates and trainees

The ASEAN+3 FETN completed the third informal video conference on 1 June. At the conference, EIP coordinator of Malaysia’s Health Ministry Dr. Hasrina Hassan shared the range of public health measures implemented by the country in response to COVID-19, since the first confirmed case was reported on 25 January 2020 through the three waves of infections and to the five phases of the movement control orders. 

Dr. Hassan shared that 90% of graduates and trainees of Malaysia’s three-tiered FETP (basic, intermediate and advanced) were mobilised for the national response to COVID-19 – across multiple levels of the public health system and spread throughout the different states.

Those under the basic programme are usually in districts involved in the management of points of entry, epidemiological surveillance, rapid response and case management, or risk assessment and risk communication, among others. Meanwhile those in the advanced and intermediate programmes are involved in leadership and management, planning, coordination and monitoring.

She added that the continued delivery of the basic training programme has not been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the intermediate programme has encountered delays and discussions to resume the course virtually and to extend the programme are on-going.

Dr. Chinnayah also indicated that the risk assessment and risk communication component of the programme may need to be reviewed in consideration of their experience in the current COVID-19 outbreak.

The ASEAN+3 FETN Coordinating Office, with the support of the ASEAN Secretariat, is liaising with contact points on disease surveillance from ASEAN Member States and Plus Three Countries for the conduct of future knowledge and experience sharing sessions.

*******