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Field Epidemiologists Graduate

Fifteen Papua New Guineans (PNG) have graduated from what has been hailed a premiere training for Field Epidemiologists or ‘disease detectives’ last Friday.

Outgoing World Health Organization’s (WHO) lead Epidemiologist in the PNG Country Office, Dr.Boris Pavlin, says this brings the total number of graduated Field Epidemiologist in-country to 50, advancing skills in practical disease surveillance analysis and outbreak response for PNG.
“The job of a field epidemiologist or ‘disease detective’ is to prevent illness before it occurs: by investigating potential or existing health problems and using information learnt to prevent others from getting sick,” says Dr. Pavlin.

He said examples of PNG’s success stories out of the training include:
improving HIV testing amongst TB patients in Enga from 24% to 100%;
decreasing TB defaulter rates in an area of West New Britain from 75% to 36% and;
increasing detection of Gender-Based Violence cases in the Goroka Provincial Hospital Emergency Department 12-fold and improving referral to the Family Support Centre.
The fifteen graduates, who comprised of nominated health workers from health departments and institutions across the country, graduated in a closed event at Muruk Haus in the nation’s capital.
Martha Pogo of the National Department of Health won the award for Best Intervention in her Post-Exposure Prophylaxis at Port Moresby General Hospital Family Support Centre (PEP; giving medicine to people potentially exposed to HIV to prevent them from becoming infected) in sexual violence survivors. Her intervention during the study increased PEP completion to 75% from a low 20.8%.

Roselyn Gatana of Bougainville Health was awarded the Boris Pavlin Prize for Best Epidemiology. In her study of ‘Vaccination rates in Bougainville.’ She identified that national data on vaccination coverage in the Kieta district of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville were inaccurate. Her project also increased district Penta-3 (combination vaccine) coverage from 55.4% to 77.2%; and reduced vaccination drop-out rate from 30.8% to 21.6%.
The six-month Field Epidemiology Training Programme, FETPNG, began in PNG in April 2013 and has been the backbone of trainings for field epidemiologists in dozens of countries throughout the world
FETPNG is a National Department of Health programme, supported by World Health Organisation (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Hunter New England Local Health District in Australia, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the PNG Remote Sensing Centre.
The programme focuses on practical health interventions, and comprises a combination of lectures and hands-on training, case studies, and one-on-one mentorship with national and international experts.
Dr. Pavlin says many graduates have gone on to earn advanced degrees, present at international scientific conferences, and/or risen to leadership positions.
“Some have won awards for their work, but most importantly, they save lives with their projects,” he says.

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