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Lack of Field Epidemiologists Blamed for Slow Tackling of Diseases

Dr Alex Riolexus Ario, the Director of the Uganda National Institute of Public Health says Uganda needs to have at least one field epidemiologist at the district level to identify problems faster and handle public health emergencies better.

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Uganda will need to train more field epidemiologists in order to make major strides in disease surveillance and handling outbreaks before spiralling out of control.

This was revealed by Dr Alex Riolexus Ario, the Director of the Uganda National Institute of Public Health as a batch of 13 specialists were graduating as field epidemiologists on Thursday.

Ario said the new fellows bring the total of post-masters students trained under the two year specialist programme to just 65 yet it was started more than five years ago. The country, he says, needs to have at least one of such specialists at the district level to help identify problems faster and handle public health emergencies better. 

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The highest cohort they have admitted ever for the programme is 15 fellows who are enrolled for the year 2022. This is partly due to the fact that the course is tedious and requires one to either resign from their job or take unpaid leave to be deployed in the Ministry of Health for two years. 

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He says they are doing a curriculum review to add other critical aspects in public health like informatics. Howeber, they are impeded by lack of funds since the course is money intensive considering that the fellow has to be in the field and establish systems that would help tackle specific health challenges.

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The course is entirely donor-funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Ario says they have been looking for more funding such that the number of trainees can increase but also add other units that are critical for disease prevention and control.

On his part, Dr Daniel Kyabayinze, the Director of Public Health in the Ministry of Health said this graduation is timely when the Ministry of Health is grappling with COVID-19 vaccine uptake. With more than 20 million doses of the vaccine in stores but just four million people fully vaccinated, he said these can be helpful in establishing what exactly is keeping people away from the jab.

While deployed at the Ministry of Health, some of the graduating fellows got involved in investigating the COVID-19 outbreak in Moroto prison in September 2020, an outbreak at a secondary school in Kampala and how to handle home-based COVID-19 care in western Uganda.

Other work was done on suspected anthrax outbreaks in Kapchorwa and surveillance of Acute Flaccid paralysis as a symptom of polio.  

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