Laos Celebrates 14th Field Epidemiology Training Graduating Class

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Commencement ceremony for the eighth batch of graduates from the 14th Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP). Photo supplied by the US Embassy in Laos.

The Lao Plaza Hotel hosted the commencement ceremony for the eighth batch of graduates from the 14th Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) on 26 April. Senior officials from the Ministry of Health, the Embassy of the United States in Laos, and the World Health Organization (WHO) attended the event, marking a significant step forward in bolstering the nation’s capacity to combat infectious diseases.

The FETP program strengthens Laos’ capacity to conduct infectious disease biosurveillance and response, enabling Laos’ health officials to detect and respond to disease outbreaks including COVID-19, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Avian influenza, and other diseases.

Since its inception in 2009, the FETP has been a collaborative effort between the US Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the Lao Ministry of Health’s Department of Communicable Disease Control and National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology.

As of April 2024, 110 field staff have successfully completed this one-year training course, with 38 alumni from the national level, 53 from provincial level, and 19 from district level.

“As we saw during Laos’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, FET graduates make a real difference in the health and safety of Laos’s citizens.  We are proud to support this program, and to contribute to the continued improvement of health services in the country,” said Michelle Y. Outlaw, Chargée d’Affaires of the US Embassy to Laos.

Phayvanh Keopaseuth, the Vice Minister of Health, echoed this sentiment, lauding the invaluable contributions of FET graduates to enhancing health security within the Lao PDR. “I offer my sincere congratulations to the FET graduates for their successful completion of the FET course,” he remarked, urging them to leverage their newfound skills to fortify health systems across the nation.

“Today marks a significant milestone for protecting communities and the nation, as we celebrate additional epidemiologists who will reinforce the country’s preparedness and response to public health emergencies,” further commented Timothy Peter Armstrong, acting WHO Representative. “We congratulate the Ministry of Health for its unwavering commitment to improving the nation’s capacity to detect and respond to disease outbreaks and to strengthening health security in Laos.”

FETP graduates play a crucial role in the health sector, contributing to communicable disease prevention and control through biosurveillance activities, investigating cases, and collecting samples. Graduates provide recommendations to policy makers to address and improve disease prevention and control measures. They also assist in outbreak response by conducting contact tracing and interviews to ascertain disease etiology. To date, FETP students and alumni have responded to approximately 500 outbreaks in all 18 provinces, significantly strengthening the epidemiology capacity within the country.