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Ethiopia: Transformative Training – Influencing Environment and Epidemiology

Today, the world, including Africa, has been facing significant environmental challenges, and Ethiopia is no exception. Different studies show that Ethiopia is grappling with various environmental health issues such as air pollution, water contamination, vector-borne diseases, and food safety concerns.

Consequently, the people of Ethiopia, like their fellow Africans, are at risk of contracting diseases associated with these environmental factors. Due to inadequate access to safe drinking water in numerous regions of the country, waterborne diseases like cholera and diarrheal illnesses persist as significant concerns for the reason these challenges have a direct impact on public health, necessitating efficient regulation and enforcement measures to mitigate associated risks.

Furthermore, all of the aforementioned issues are interconnected with climate change. Ethiopia experiences the effects of climate change, including heat waves, droughts, crop failures, and floods. These environmental changes not only affect the availability of food and water but also indirectly impact public health. The scarcity of food and water resources can lead to malnutrition leading to increased susceptibility to diseases, and other health consequences.

Recently, an extensive four-day training program was held in Bishoftu Town with the aim of equipping researchers at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) with the essential skills and knowledge needed to effectively address environmental and epidemiological challenges in Ethiopia. By comprehending the underlying causes of environmental challenges, participants can contribute towards the implementation and development of suitable strategies aimed at effectively combating air pollution, water and vector-borne diseases, as well as concerns related to food safety, thereby making a significant and measurable impact.

According to the organizers, the training has the purpose of equipping public health officers and professionals with vital skills to identify and address emerging environmental health threats. It is aimed to enable them to provide accurate data and information to high-level officials, facilitating informed decision-making and the development of evidence-based policies for implementing effective disease prevention interventions. The comprehensive course ensures an engaging learning experience that encompasses all facets of environmental epidemiology and exposure assessment, making it a valuable resource for professionals in the field.

Opening the program, Getachew Tollera (MD), Deputy Director General of EPHI said: “Today, we proudly launch the Environmental Epidemiology and Exposure Assessment Training, which is part of the ‘Building Stronger Public Health Institutions and Systems’ (BIS) collaboration agreement, aimed at building institutional capacities in environmental health.” The training, according to him, is organized to build the capacity of EPHI staff in environmental epidemiology and exposure assessment, as part of the BIS institutional capacity building efforts.

Furthermore, it aims to foster public health capacities at four levels: enhancing the capability, knowledge, and skills of public health workers at the individual level; supporting the systems and knowledge of local public health institutions at the institutional level; aligning policy with public health functions at the national level; and facilitating collaboration and learning among national systems at the global and regional level.

Enhancing the active involvement of participants through a carefully designed mix of theoretical and practical activities is also the other intent of the training.

Participants have expressed that the training has been instrumental in enhancing their research skills and deepening their understanding of the significance of selecting an appropriate study design to ensure accurate and timely data collection. They have noticed a positive impact on their research approach, attributing it to improved data collection methods, statistical analysis techniques, and a heightened awareness of the relationship between environmental factors and public health outcomes.

This newfound knowledge has empowered them to provide more informed recommendations to government officials regarding effective interventions.

Researcher at EPHI and participant of the training Tsigereda Assefa highlighted the training’s value. “The training has imparted essential knowledge to researchers, covering crucial topics such as environmental epidemiology, environmental exposure assessment, assessment methodologies, research ethics, and data management.”

Senior Researcher at EPHI and the other trainee, Kirubel Tesfaye, also shared his perspective towards the training. “The environmental and epidemiology training has enriched my research skills by enhancing my ability to analyze and interpret data related to exposure assessment and disease investigation, thereby bolstering my professional development.”

Closing the four-day training program, Masresha Tessema (PhD), Director of the Food Science and Nutrition Research Directorate (FSNRD), emphasized the importance of the training for young researchers, who, he said, face daily challenges. He said that the training was unique for its focus on environmental issues like air pollution, climate change, sanitation, waste management, and urbanization, which are currently causing health hazards to the Ethiopian people.

Masresha expressed deep gratitude to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), BIS, and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) for their support. He also thanked the instructors for their efficient knowledge-sharing, without whom, he said, this training program would not have been possible.

In the training, which was jointly organized by EPHI and NIPH in collaboration with the BIS program, 25 researchers, including six women, who are actively engaged at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute, took place.

During the training days, participants were also actively engaged in daily group work discussions, case study analysis, and presentations.

The training program, in addition to senior professionals from the Ethiopian Institute of Public Health (EPHI), involved scholars from around the world, including from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) and the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR).

The training on environment and epidemiology held in Bishoftu Town was undeniably valuable. Given the ongoing environmental and epidemiological issues faced by our country, these training sessions are crucial. Producing well-trained professionals is necessary to address health problems resulting from environmental challenges. Therefore, it is vital to ensure the continuity of such training.

BY TEKLE TESFALIDET

THE ETHIOPIAN HERALD TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2023

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