Six officers from the Ministry of Health graduated from the Caribbean Field Epidemiology Laboratory Training Programme (CR-FELTP) on Thursday 21st April, 2016. This is the second cohort of participants from St. Lucia to successfully complete this regional training programme. The CR-FELTP was borne out of the recognition by Public Health Officials in the region of the need to increase the number of trained persons who can respond to emerging diseases such as Chikungunya, Pertussis and Zika.
Local Coordinator for the Caribbean Field Epidemiology Laboratory Training Programme, Dr. Michelle Francois, explained that the programme which ran for four months entailed real-life, on the job training combined with lectures on various topics.
“So the participants are able to walk in the shoes of their colleagues. They are able to go out into the field and see what their colleagues do on a daily basis and get an appreciation of how the information is gathered and where it comes from. And the beauty of this is that it also fosters these sort of relationships between the participants so that they are able now to pick up the phone and respond; pick up the phone and now call a colleague because they now know them on a totally different level and that way we have more teamwork. We have persons working together which is what is should be, persons from different disciplines coming together to solve problems.”
Dr. Francois pointed out that participants have been trained to conduct outbreak investigations on the field, gather and present information to determine the source of an outbreak.
“They now are our grounds-men. We can use them on the ground; they are extensions of the ministry now. The aim now is to get these and others trained involved and following up with cases.”
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in collaboration with the Canadian Public Health Agency have both funded and supported the CR-FELTP in the region. The programme has two levels with level one conducted by local facilitators. Two participants from St. Lucia are currently enrolled in the level two programme which is ran at the level of CARPHA.
Dr. Francois added, “The certificate carries 30 credits. So for individuals who require renewal of their licenses this is a very important certificate for them. They are in the process of getting accreditation for this programme, so the more cohorts that we run the better it would be and the ease of getting recognition for the programme.”
District Medical Officer, Dr. Oliver Austin, one of the participants of the CR-FELTP had nothing but praise for the programme.
“This programme is very valuable in that it gives us the opportunity to expand the epidemiological scope of what already exists in St. Lucia. Working directly in communities in gives me an opportunity in an outbreak situation to get on-board very quickly, identify the causative organism that is responsible for the outbreak or whatever situation that exists and really try to mitigate or prevent such an outbreak. So it’s very valuable not just to the community where I work but to the island as a whole and to the Caribbean.”
Dr. Austin added that though the programme was challenging, the key to successfully completing the CR-FELTP was to lighten the workload by working as a team.