I attended the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) from November 12th-16th in Maputo, Mozambique. It was a great opportunity to hear about the on-the-ground public health work being conducted in 31 countries on the African continent and efforts being made to build field epidemiology capacity. The theme of the conference was, “Building Resilient and Sustainable Public Health Systems in Africa Through Field Epidemiology Training.” My first session to participate in was the preconference workshop, “Orientation to International Outbreak Response with WHO and Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) in the African Region.” Participants spent a full day learning about how to become involved in international public health deployments through the AFENET network, working through complex exercises in groups, and assessing our individual readiness to deploy if needed. Attendees from Zambia, Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, and many other countries were represented at this session.
There were also great plenary sessions. My top three sessions (of those I had the opportunity to attend) included: 1) Implementation Science in Public Health (presentation given by Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue), 2) Transforming Public Health Surveillance – Proactive Measures for Prevention Detection and Response (presentation given by Dr. Scott JN McNabb), and 3) North-South Collaboration for Public Health Workforce Development: The Case of Washington University & University of Zimbabwe (Dr. Janet Baseman, Dr. Notion Gombe and Audrey Hu). All of these sessions either resonated with me or challenged me to think outside the box to take needed risks as a public health professional.
Now, the real reason I had the opportunity to attend the AFENET conference was to provide support and technical assistance to the Zambia Field Epidemiology Training Program (Zambia FETP). Zambia FETP had 6 residents present a mixture of poster and oral presentations over the course of 5 days. Our residents shined not only in the scientific sessions but also when it came time to share about the nation of Zambia during the International Night that was held towards the end of the week. Overall, I learned that providing support also meant helping showcase a popular Zambian dance, assisting with handing out small gifts and pamphlets to colleagues from other countries, and participating in insightful conversations about what true mentorship looks like.
Some highlights of the conference included catching up with two of my fellow PHI/CDC Global Health Fellows, having breakfast with my mentor, being near the beach, building relationships with our residents, meeting our points of contacts from CDC Atlanta, connecting with the Nigerian FETP and, of course, networking with a diverse array of public health leaders from the African continent. There were a few challenges as well. I was sick for the first few days of the conference. There were many hiccups that occurred prior to the conference which led to me only being able to attend last minute. Finally, the theme of the conference made me reflect on gaps I see in epidemiology capacity when I consider situations like the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and wonder what, if any, impact I may be able to make during my time here.
Sophia Anyatonwu, MPH, CPH, CIC
Global Epidemiology Fellow | PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program