U.S. CDC, Country Director Praises Liberian Public Health Workers as Key Partners

The Country Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Liberia, Dr. Rachel T. Idowu says every day, public health workers across Liberia work faithfully to make sure each Liberian can live in a community that has the capacity to quickly recognize and respond to diseases that can be transmitted person-to-person. “You may not know these people’s names but there may be one or more field epidemiologists (also known as “disease detective” or “disease investigators”) living in your county or your district”, she says.

In a statement to mark the launch of World Field Epidemiology Day Tuesday, September 7, 2021, Dr. Idowu noted that many public health leaders, governments, and communities around the world are celebrating the first World Field Epidemiology Day, which is an opportunity to highlight the success of disease detectives that are helping to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Liberia. She continues that since 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in partnership with the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and the African Field Epidemiology Network, have trained 246 frontline disease detectives to prevent, detect, and respond to signs of infectious diseases in communities.

“They are your district surveillance officers. From 2017 to 2021, an additional 62 higher-level disease detectives have been trained and assigned to 15 counties within Liberia as county surveillance officers.”
She adds that around the world, more than 19,000 disease detectives have been trained through more than 80 Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETP), serving over 90 countries and territories. “FETP began in 1975, and since 2005 FETP, disease detectives responded to more than 5,500 outbreaks, including Ebola, Zika, yellow fever, cholera, measles, as well as natural disasters around the world.”

The statement published on the official website of the Embassy of the United States near Monrovia, further details that all these disease detectives are trained to address infectious diseases that come from human, animal, or environmental causes and affect communities, noting that disease detectives apply their knowledge of field epidemiology, surveillance, research, and disease prevention/control to reduce the likelihood that illness, injury, or death will affect families and communities.

Madam Idowu who took up assignment jointly in August 2021 with United States Agency for International Aid (USAID) Mission Director Jim Wright, explains the sooner disease detectives recognize the signs of a possible disease outbreak, the sooner they can work with other public health experts to stop a local outbreak from becoming a global pandemic like the current COVID-19 pandemic, adding “So, the important work they do to gather evidence about where, when, and how an outbreak started is the foundation of building a successful response effort.

Dr. Rachel Idowu is a 2014 graduate of the Vanderbilt MPH Program. She joined the Epidemiology Intelligence Service of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a medical epidemiologist assigned to the CDC’s Center for Global Health. As part of her MPH work, she lived and worked in Nairobi as a 2011-2012 Fogarty Clinical International Research Fellow, partnering with officials in the Kenyan Ministry of Health to research the delivery of surgical and anesthesia care in Kenya. She received her medical degree from the University of California San Francisco in 2004.

I remember my first time in a public health class hearing my professor describe the upstream-downstream model of health care, and it really spoke to me; it made perfect sense: of course you would want to work upstream — that’s where you prevent illness.

In summer 2014, Rachel spent five weeks in Monrovia, Liberia assisting the Ebola outbreak response for the CDC’s Division of Global Health Protection.

The original story was published by The New Dawn, 08/09/21