7th September marks World Field Epidemiology Day recognizing and raising awareness of the pivotal role field epidemiologists play in protecting the health of populations in times of public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
For twenty-five years now, the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN), through the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Public Health Division and partners has been working to support and build core epidemiological skills of health workers in the region.
The PPHSN Strengthening Health Interventions in the Pacific – Data for Decision Making programme (SHIP-DDM) offers Postgraduate Certificate in Field Epidemiology (PGCFE) and has provided health workers from the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) the opportunity to reinforce their skills and implement meaningful projects to improve their health information systems, surveillance, investigation and response capacities.
So far, 120 PGCFE candidates from 10 PICTs have been awarded the Post Graduate Certificate in Field Epidemiology (PGCFE) and more than 350 health workers around the Pacific have started the programme.
Nixon Olofisau is a registered nurse from the Solomon Islands based at the Kilu’ufi Hospital. Nixon has completed modules 1-5 of the DDM/PGCFE training.
What area of public health do you specialise in?
I specialise in infection, prevention, and control and in surveillance systems. I have been working in the nursing field for the past 20 years.
How was this training further complemented the work you do?
This training has been very useful for me in my area of work as it has enabled me to improve our country’s Public Health Syndromic Surveillance System.
The DDM training shifted my paradigm to a data driven health system perspective that prompted me to enhance the syndromic surveillance reporting in my province as my health system improvement project – the final output of my DDM training. The project improved the reporting of the four newly added Syndromic Surveillance Data Reporting Sites across the Provincial Main Area Health Centers and enabled me to introduce and implement a data management process at the Provincial level.
With the knowledge I obtained from the outbreak investigation module of the DDM training, I was able to set up and supervise a Malaita Provincial Health Outbreak investigation & Response team “. The team conducts outbreak investigations for various health situations and in various locations in the province.
Our team conducted the investigation of the first COVID-19 RDT positive cases detected in the Island of Ontong Java which then prompted the Health Authority to declare community transmission in the Solomon Islands in January 2022.
Why do you think this PGCFE programme is important?
It continues to increase health professionals’ capacity in the region and helps countries to identify gaps in their health information systems and this will help strengthen the data management processes, from data collection to data analysis and enable countries to use the data for information and action. Detecting events and health threats early and instituting prompt interventions minimizes impact of disease outbreaks.
25 Years of the PPHSN
This year, the Pacific Community will be celebrating 25 years of the PPHSN with the theme “25 years of networking and innovation towards health security in the Pacific”. PPHSN connects more than 1200 health professionals from the Pacific and beyond.
The SHIP-DDM training programme is implemented by members and partners of PPHSN, including the ministries of health of the Pacific Island countries and territories, the Pacific Island Health Officers Association, Fiji National University, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hunter New England Local Health District in Australia, the World Health Organization, the University of Guam and SPC. This is made possible by financial support from key partners of the network, which includes the Agence française de développement (AFD), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the European Union (EU), the German Development Bank (KfW), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
PPHSN was created 25 years ago (in December 1996) under the joint auspices of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in close consultation with the 22 PICTs and several regional partners.
Its primal focus is communicable diseases, especially those prone to outbreak, such as dengue fever or COVID-19.
PPHSN includes the following six key services to support Pacific Island countries and territories with the surveillance and response to outbreaks:
- PacNet (for alert and communication),
- Pacific Syndromic Surveillance System (for outbreak detection)
- LabNet (for disease verification and identification),
- EpiNet (for preparedness and response),
- PICNet (for infection prevention and control), and
- SHIP-DDM (for capacity building and strengthening).