Testimony to the U.S. Congressional House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies
The following is a statement given by Dr. Carl Reddy, the director of TEPHINET, on behalf of The Task Force for Global Health to the U.S. Congressional House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies during their FY2022 Public Witness Day Hearing on May 19, 2021. The subcommittee heard from 25 witnesses who testified on topics related to health, labor and educaton. Dr. Reddy's statement underscored the importance of investing in global field epidemiology capacity building, and the value of funds that have been provided for this initiative to date. This statement, along with statements given by other witnesses are available on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations website.
The Task Force [for Global Health], based in Atlanta, is a nonprofit founded in 1984. Our 16 programs work with partners in more than 150 countries to eliminate diseases, ensure access to vaccines and essential medicines, and strengthen health systems to protect populations.
My program, TEPHINET, is a global network of Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETPs). We are funded primarily through the U.S. CDC.
You might be wondering what a field epidemiologist does, and why it is important for all countries to have them.
Think of it this way: when there is a fire, we call upon trained firefighters to rush to the scene, and put it out as soon as possible. Field epidemiologists are the firefighters of public health. When there is a disease outbreak, a natural disaster, or a humanitarian crisis, they are deployed to the scene. They are also responsible for setting up the fire alarms in the first place by establishing disease surveillance systems to catch cases early.
Their task is to understand how and why the health threat is occurring, who is affected, and how to stop its spread. For this reason, they are known as “Disease Detectives.” They work at Ministries of Health or National Public Health Institutes like our CDC. Without them, countries simply cannot identify or control disease threats.
Our 75 programs have trained more than 19,000 field epidemiologists in more than 100 countries. They have investigated more than 12,000 outbreaks and developed more than 5,000 disease surveillance systems.
FETPs work on all disease threats, from measles to Ebola to malaria. More recently, they have been the lynchpin in efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been working around the clock to trace contacts, investigate and manage cases, analyze data and educate their communities. Without them, many governments would not have access to reliable data. In the poorest countries, there is no other workforce to conduct contact tracing or case investigations.
Before coming to The Task Force, I was the director of the South African FETP program, started with CDC funding in 2006. Like other FETPs, over time, as we developed our national capacity, ownership for the program was transferred to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, South Africa’s CDC.
Because we had developed strong internal expertise, we were able to investigate and resolve disease threats that might formerly have required outside experts. For example, following an outbreak of diarrheal disease, FETP trainees identified the root cause: poor maintenance at the water treatment plant. As a result of the FETP investigation, the town installed a new water plant, saving lives and helping the economy with healthier, more productive citizens.
To offer another example, Guinea, in West Africa, established an FETP program following the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, which claimed thousands of lives and resulted in cases being treated here in the United States. Guinea is now facing a new Ebola outbreak. This time, FETPs led the development and implementation of the country’s Ebola response plan. Guinea has had a dramatically improved response. The vast majority of suspected cases are being investigated, and the spread of Ebola is being controlled.
The global community recognizes the important leadership of the United States to FETPs, through CDC. As a result of Congressional support for CDC’s mission, other partners have joined forces in an ambitious plan to develop and strengthen programs worldwide. Recently, TEPHINET and The Task Force for Global Health worked with partners to develop the Global Field Epidemiology Roadmap. TEPHINET is coordinating a Strategic Leadership Group to lead the implementation of this Roadmap, so that all countries can develop – and sustain - the field epidemiology capacity needed to avert public health crises, and their devastating human and economic costs.
With the support of this Committee, more than 100 countries now have a field epidemiology workforce, with measurable results. Our Roadmap shows how we can build upon that success to develop FETPs in many more.
We look forward to continuing to work with you. Thank you.