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Public health systems strengthening in Africa: The role of South Africa Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme

Lazarus Kuonza
Khin San Tint
Bernice Harris
Immaculate Nabukenya


The South Africa Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme (SAFELTP) was created in 2006 after recognizing the need to build and sustain the country’s human resource capacity in field (applied) epidemiology and public health practice. The programme was formed as a collaboration between the South Africa Department of Health (DoH), the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the University of Pretoria. The primary goal of the programme was to produce field-trained epidemiologists equipped with knowledge and practical skills to effectively and efficiently address the public health priorities of South Africa. SAFELTP is a 2-year full-time training, consisting of a combination of classroom-based instruction (30%) and mentored field work (70%). The training places emphasis on public health surveillance, investigation of disease epidemics, public health laboratory practice and communication of epidemiologic information, among other aspects of epidemiology research. At completion, residents are awarded a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from the University of Pretoria. Since its inception in 2006, 48 residents have enrolled onto the programme and 30 (62%) of them have completed the training. Over the past 5 years, the residents have conducted more than 92 outbreak investigations, 47 surveillance evaluations, 19 planned studies, analyzed 37 large databases and presented more than 56 papers at local and international conferences. In recognition of the high-quality work, at least five SAFELTP residents have received awards at various international scientific conferences during the 5 years. In conclusion, the South Africa FELTP is now fully established and making valuable contributions to the country’s public health system, albeit with innumerable challenges.

Pan African Medical Journal 2011;10(Supp1):8

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eISSN: 1937-8688