October 27, 2023 (Hagåtña, Guam) – Nine Guam-based public health professionals completed the first tier of the Strengthening Health Intervention in the Pacific (SHIP) field epidemiology training program (FETP). They learned to collect, analyze, interpret, communicate, and transform data to support decision-making and action. From October 2022 to May 2023, staff from the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS), Westcare Pacific Islands, Inc., and Pacific Island Health Officers’ Association (PIHOA) Pacific Public Health Fellows completed five, week-long training sessions, online coursework, and health systems improvement projects using actual health agency data. In successfully completing SHIP Tier 1, they will earn a Post-Graduate Certificate in Field Epidemiology (PGCFE) awarded by the Fiji National University (FNU).

With support from their workplace, each participant received protected time from their regular duties to participate in the program. Cameron Murphy, a PIHOA Amy St. Pierre Maternal and Child Pacific Public Health Fellow at Guam DPHSS, shares that the training provides teachings not otherwise granted for our island, which allows us to continue our work while simultaneously learning. Ms. Murphy expects to use the techniques learned from the courses and the project to focus on maternal morbidity and mortality on Guam.

Bringing classroom instruction to implementation in the workplace is a key approach to the training. Participants submit a work-based capstone project they developed throughout the training period, which they present to a group of DPHSS supervisors and managers. Rhoda Basto, Tobacco Prevention and Control Program Health Educator II at Guam DPHSS worked on the surveillance of tobacco-related violations in schools. After the course, Ms. Basto shared her findings with the Guam Department of Education to strengthen school-based tobacco and vaping prevention and control policies and interventions. Her findings were published in a local newspaper.[1]

[1] “98% of Tobacco Violations Last School Year E-cigarette Related.” The Guam Daily Post, 15 Aug. 2023. https://www.postguam.com/news/local/98-of-tobacco-violations-last-school-year-e-cigarette-related/article_5ae4a064-3a41-11ee-9362-a76b57239d97.html

In addition to addressing priorities in communicable and non-communicable diseases, public health professionals who completed the PGCFE can also apply their learned skills to other work areas. Mia Madlambayan, an Epidemiologist and Research Assistant, shares that learning about data management and information products has been directly applicable to strengthening continuous quality improvement activities in her program at Westcare Pacific Islands, Inc. and to fostering data-driven decision-making.

In 2023, three other cohorts also completed the PGCFE in Majuro and Ebeye in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. Another cohort is ongoing in Palau. The training is also scheduled to start in American Samoa, and Yap State in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in early 2024.

Strengthening Health Interventions in the Pacific (SHIP) is a Pacific region-wide program of the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN) hosted by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Public Health Division in partnership with WHO. SHIP is a Pacific-adapted and expanded field epidemiology training program (FETP). PIHOA, in its capacity as a Permanent Member of the PPHSN Coordinating Body, is the lead agency for SHIP coordination and implementation in the USAPIs. SHIP is accredited by the Fiji National University and is comprised of 3 tiers: 1) Post-Graduate Certificate in Field Epidemiology (Data for Decision-Making); 2) Post-Graduate Diploma in Applied Epidemiology; and 3) Master’s in Applied Epidemiology. For further information on SHIP, visit the SPC PPHSN website here and the PIHOA website here.

For USAPI health agencies interested in training the next round of Field Epidemiology Technicians, please contact the PIHOA SHIP Program at ship@pihoa.org. SHIP delivery in the USAPIs is made possible through funding and support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the original PIHOA E-Blast HERE!