By Tekle Tesfalidet
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. 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, increased susceptibility to diseases, and other health consequences.
Recently, an extensive four-day training program took place in Bishoftu 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, waterborne diseases, vector-borne diseases, and concerns related to food safety, thereby making a significant and measurable impact.
Participating in the training program, which was jointly organized by EPHI and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) in collaboration with the Building Stronger Public Health Institutions and Systems (BIS) program, were 25 researchers, including six women, who are actively engaged at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute.
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 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 training program, Dr. Getachew Tollera, 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." He added: “This training is organized to build the capacity of EPHI staff in environmental epidemiology and exposure assessment, as part of the BIS institutional capacity building efforts.”
He further said: This training 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.
The training program was aimed at enhancing the active involvement of participants through a carefully designed mix of theoretical and practical activities. During the four days, participants not only listened to lectures but were also actively engaged in daily group work discussions, case study analysis, and presentations. The training program involved esteemed scholars from around the world, including Dr. Eleni Papadopoulou, PhD, MPH, from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH); Dr. Adetoun Mustapha, PhD, MPH, from the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), and Mulugeta Geremew, MSc, from the Ethiopian Institute of Public Health (EPHI). Additionally, insightful lectures were delivered by Sonja Myhre, PhD, MsPH and Frode Forland, MD, DPH both from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH).
Due credit should also be given to Tara Kelly Dolgner, MA, a senior advisor at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), and Daniel Abera, senior researcher at EPHI, for their invaluable contributions in ensuring the smooth and successful execution of the training program.
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. One participant, Tsigereda Assefa, researcher at EPHI, highlighted the training's value, stating, "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." Another trainee, Kirubel Tesfaye, senior researcher at EPHI, shared his perspective, expressing, "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, Dr. Masresha Tessema, the 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 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.
Dr. Masresha expressed deep gratitude to 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.
The training on environment and epidemiology held in Bishoftu was undeniably valuable. Given the ongoing environmental and epidemiological issues faced by our country, these trainings are crucial. Well-trained professionals are necessary to address health problems resulting from environmental challenges. Therefore, it is vital to ensure the continuity of such training.