Epidemiologists tout largest workforce size since 2001; Identify remaining gaps in disease surveillance capacity

Friday, June 29, 2018 General News
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Ebola, Addiction, Mental Health Among Key Public Health Priorities Facing Insufficient Surveillance Capacity

ATLANTA, June 29, 2018 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) today announced

the number of epidemiologists nationwide – public health professionals that monitor and control diseases – is at its highest level since counts began in 2001, a critical benchmark to improve surveillance and preparedness against infectious diseases. Nonetheless, gaping holes remain in our national capacity to protect against public health threats.

"At a time when Ebola has resurfaced in Africa and the need for addiction and mental health services have never been higher, national attention must focus on our capacity to handle emerging public health threats," said CSTE Executive Director Jeffrey Engel, MD.  "While increases in the number of epidemiologists is encouraging, we must redouble efforts to prepare for a robust and aggressive response."

CSTE's Epidemiology Capacity Assessment (ECA), conducted nationwide from April-August 2017, found for the first time since counts began in 2001, a ratio of epidemiologists surpassing 1 per 100,000 population (1.04). Growth mainly occurred in the area of infectious disease and is reflected in the high level of capacity to monitor and investigate health problems. 

Despite this positive step, public health disease surveillance capacity remains insufficient to protect populations against emerging infectious diseases, ensure an effective outbreak response, or stem the opioid epidemic, while maintaining routine activities. The data indicate overall low capacity in emerging areas of concern, including substance abuse, mental health, and informatics. Despite gains in staffing, an additional 1200 epidemiologists are needed to reach full capacity.

"While the gaps in capacity are affected by the number of available staff, they are perpetuated by problems in hiring, retaining, and providing training for a qualified workforce," said Engel. "Heavy reliance on federal funding to support the work of epidemiologists can impede the flexibility of staff to support basic functions, like surveillance, and can contribute to workplace insecurity in a time of budget cuts." 

Most recently, states have been provided emergency federal resources to address threats such as Ebola, Zika, and the opioid epidemic. While these resources may have contributed to short-term gains in capacity, their long-term impacts are unknown as funding is scheduled to end as early as this year.  States also indicated that their staff can be overwhelmed during a response, distracting from routine and critical surveillance activities.

"In many states, there is a misalignment of needs and resources impeding their ability to adequately support routine disease surveillance and to respond to emerging issues," added Dr. Engel. "Similar to other recent assessments of the public health workforce, strategies are needed to increase epidemiology capacity, and efforts are needed to develop and sustain the specialized skillset of the workforce to meet the demands of the field."

Training for the current workforce is needed to foster the specialized skill set required to address emerging public health issues and harness new technologies for improved efficiency and effectiveness. Public health agencies can support these efforts by collaborating with partners, such as academic institutions and government agencies, to provide training and leverage funding opportunities to support cross-cutting epidemiology personnel and activities.

The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) represents state and local epidemiologists at health departments in the U.S. and its territories and will continue to work with partners to ensure a competent and qualified workforce. The 2017 ECA report is available at http://www.cste.org/group/ECA.

Cision View original content:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/epidemiologists-tout-largest-workforce-size-since-2001-identify-remaining-gaps-in-disease-surveillance-capacity-300674720.html

SOURCE Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists



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