June 21, 2024

In a significant step forward to strengthen global health security, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) released the first-ever global guidance to develop One Health field epidemiology competencies to support workforce development for prevention, preparedness, and response to health threats.

The Competencies for One Health Field Epidemiology (COHFE) Framework establishes a standardized approach to training frontline responders in the interconnected fields of human, animal, and environmental health. This critical workforce plays a vital role in detecting, investigating, and responding to disease outbreaks at the source, thus protecting health across all sectors using a One Health approach.

“A well-trained One Health field epidemiology workforce is essential for tackling today’s complex health challenges,” said Julio Pinto, Animal Production and Health Division at FAO. “The new guidance provide a roadmap for building a global network of skilled professionals who can effectively collaborate to prevent and respond to endemic and emerging diseases with zoonotic potential.”

The COHFE Framework outlines core competencies for frontline, intermediate, and advanced levels of field epidemiology training. It emphasizes the importance of a One Health approach, equipping trainees with the skills to investigate outbreaks across the human-animal-environment interface.

This new guidance represents a major milestone in strengthening One Health capacity worldwide,” said Dr Marion Muehlen, Head of the Field Epidemiology Strengthening Unit of WHO. “By ensuring field epidemiologists are trained with a One Health lens, we can foster a more collaborative and effective approach to outbreak preparedness and response.”

The COHFE Framework is a comprehensive resource for governments, training institutions, and health agencies. It includes guidance on curriculum development, mentorship, learning evaluation and certification, and continuing education, ensuring a holistic approach to building a skilled One Health field epidemiology workforce. Their application at country level will assure harmonised competencies while enhancing mutual recognition and stronger integration of professionals.

“Effective disease prevention and control require a unified approach across sectors,” said Barbara Alessandrini, Head of the Capacity-Building Department of WOAH. “The COHFE Framework promotes collaboration among animal, human, and environment health workforce, strengthening our collective ability to safeguard global health.”

The role of the environment sector in One Health is emphasized throughout the COHFE Framework and an expert from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) contributed to the work of the technical advisory group that reviewed guidance. UNEP will join FAO, WHO and WOAH as the COHFE initiative moves into an implementation phase.

“Field epidemiologists need to take a systems-based approach to their work and consider environmental factors that drive disease risk,” said Julian Blanc, lead of the One Health Team at UNEP. “The health of people, animals and ecosystems are interlinked and interdependent. Training field epidemiologists to effectively integrate environmental considerations is essential for ensuring the health of our planet.”

The release of the COHFE framework and guidance marks a significant step towards a more collaborative and effective approach to global health security. By equipping field epidemiologists with the necessary One Health competencies and skills, we can prevent potential epidemics, pandemics and build a more resilient future for all.

 

 

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