Applied Epidemiology Training graduates are the leaders during disease outbreaks

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA, 04 June 2018 – Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and the determinants of health-related states or events, including disease. Such studies are used to control diseases and other health problems. The fundamental role of epidemiology is to improve the health of the populations and is essential to the process of identifying and mapping emerging diseases.

Cambodia is investing in a skilled public health workforce. Public health professionals known as Rapid Response Team (RRT) members are selected annually to participate in Cambodia’s Applied Epidemiology Training (AET) programme.

There are over 2,000 RRTs stationed in public health facilities across the country that are responsible for detecting events of public health importance and responding to these at a community level. The AET programme aims to equip RRTs with intervention epidemiology skills to carry out effective surveillance, risk assessment and outbreak response in their provinces.

The RRT participants come from a variety of backgrounds such as nursing, midwifery, medical doctors, laboratory technicians, and pharmacy. They participate in a 4-week introductory course and then a few are chosen to continue onto the 6-month programme.

Since 2011, 139 field epidemiology trainees have participated in the AET programme. These graduates are integral to strengthening the capacity of the Cambodian health system. For the past 8 years WHO staff and technical experts have provided support for course development, quality improvement, teaching and student supervision.

WHO spoke with 4 AET introductory course trainees about their experiences and how they are supporting public health in Cambodia.

Mr Yon Sopheap, Nurse from Battambang

I am a Rapid Response Team (RRT) member in Battambang Province at the Provincial Health Department. I am responsible for monitoring surveillance data collected from the Cambodian Early Warning and Response Network (CamEWARN). As a RRT member, I work closely with the Village Health Volunteers to respond to many types of disease outbreaks and to provide health education to the community.

The AET programme provides us with learning and development experiences that can help detect and respond to infectious disease. The AET programme has explored topics that I am interested in, such as the different steps in outbreak investigation and how to perform data collection in the field using a questionnaire.

AET graduates are the leaders during disease outbreaks. The AET Introductory course has improved my performance on intervention epidemiology for controlling outbreaks in my province. I have learned about various disease types, risk communication processes, and most importantly, the contacts and support personnel that are available during an outbreak.

I hope to teach RRTs in my province what I have learned, which will enable us to better protect our people from diseases.

Ms Khoun Sotheavy, Midwife from Tbong Khmum

I am a member of the Rapid Response Team (RRT) at Tbong Khmum Provincial Health Department. I previously worked as a midwife for 4 years at a private clinic. I joined the RRT 1 year ago and I have been learning to interpret and understand the disease data collected by our surveillance system. I applied for the AET Introductory course because it is an important learning opportunity for RRT.

Having finished the course, I have a better understanding of the RRTs responsibilities in the field. I have learned how to collect and interpret disease trends in Tbong Khmum and communicate these findings to my management and relevant partners so that they can make informed decisions to respond.

After completing this training, I am interested in improving maternal and child health in my province because children and pregnant women are more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Mr Hieng Duong, Pharmacist from Banteay Meanchey

I am the Deputy Director of the Pharmacy Bureau at Banteay Meanchey Provincial Health Department. My Rapid Response Team (RRT) consists of 4 people, and we work closely with smaller health facilities during disease surveillance and investigation activities. We regularly conduct health checks for people living in remote villages.

I registered for the AET Introductory course because I wanted to learn more about the fundamentals of epidemiology. As I am one of the first AET trainees from Banteay Meanchey province, I believe that learning about data collection and investigation will enable our provincial RRT to better prepare and plan for public health emergencies.

This course has enhanced my critical thinking skills when carrying out disease surveillance activities in remote communities. If we can achieve early disease detection, we can have a better overall response when outbreaks occur.

Ms Seang Sosorphea, Pharmacist from Takeo

I am the Chief of the Laboratory at Takeo Provincial Hospital and there are 15 people in my team. I am in charge of data management and the improvements to the quality and reliability of laboratory procedures. One of the main activities we undertake in the microbiology sector involves the culture and identification of microbes and antibiotic susceptibility testing.

After working in this field for 8 years, I have a strong interest in disease surveillance and building new skills in this area. In our laboratory, we collect data on patients with infections acquired in the community and health facilities. We determine the causative organism in the infections and what antimicrobials would be effective for treatment. Often patients have infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria. It is important for us to track the changes in microbial populations so we can detect drug-resistant strains of public health importance.

In the AET course I enjoyed learning about data collection, analysis and storage. I believe these new skills will be useful for the Takeo Provincial Hospital Laboratory’s routine reporting to the Cambodia Laboratory Information System (CamLIS).

When I return to my laboratory I will conduct a training session for my staff to share what I have learned. I believe this course will help us to better understand how to manage patients who have preventable infections and those who are at are at increased risk of worse clinical outcomes due to drug-resistance.