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[PIHOA] Graduates Put Their Valuable Skills to Use in Preventing and Responding to Disease Outbreaks

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Since 2015, 101 public health staff across all six U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPIs) completed the Data for Decision Making (DDM) courses and earned their Postgraduate Certificate in Field Epidemiology (PGCFE) from the Fiji National University (FNU). Staff members were trained as Epidemiology Technicians using the learning model “from work, at work, for work.” They collected, analyzed, interpreted, and communicated data from actual health agencies to improve the surveillance systems in their respective countries and jurisdictions.

PGCFE alums are enthusiastic about how they are applying their DDM knowledge and skills to foster informed decision-making, improve in-country surveillance systems, and strengthen local public health capacity, and support public health emergency preparedness and response.


Dr. Helentina “Aina” Garstang, 2018 PGCFE graduate and Marshallese native, reports that she has directly applied the knowledge and skills she acquired in her capacity as a front-line healthcare worker, and as the Marshall Islands Ministry of Health and Human Services (RMI MOHHS) Epidemiology Network (EpiNet) Chair, in charge of preparing for and responding to disease outbreaks.

Thanks to the training, Dr. Garstang feels greater confidence when she makes recommendations to leadership about the COVID-19 pandemic or local outbreaks caused by natural disasters. She has also been able to share her knowledge by conducting training for colleagues in disease outbreak preparedness and response, data collection, and management. Dr. Garstang was previously a practicing clinician in the RMI and is now a technical consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO), supporting COVID response in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).


Alumnus Boone Rain, Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Coordinator at the Chuuk State Department of Health Services in the FSM, echoes Dr. Garstang’s increased confidence as a graduate of the DDM program. Mr. Rain was called on to assist with the COVID-19 response and is currently a member of the Chuuk Health COVID-19 Taskforce. He has worked to create infection prevention and control (IPC) procedures, as well as border regulations and protocols in seaports and airports.

Using data analytical skills he gained from DDM, he was able to transform data collected from the field into useful information and actionable recommendations to prevent the entry of SARS-COV-2 into Chuuk State. After learning how to develop situation reports through DDM, Mr. Rain noted that: “Through DDM, we understood the importance of Risk Communication (especially in the era of COVID-19) and learned how to write Situation Reports that help to increase clarity and lower fear for the public. We are very mindful to disseminate facts, minimize confusion, and ensure sympathy for the public around policies imposed on them.”


Alumnus Sistine Rain was hired as the Quality Assurance Officer at the Chuuk Community Health Center (CHC) shortly after graduating from the PGCFE program in 2017. She was subsequently hired as the Human Resources Officer for the Chuuk CHC. Ms. Rain's DDM training was instrumental in her professional growth and qualifications for more specialist-level public health positions in her state.


In addition to their involvement in efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, PGCFE alums are addressing priorities related to other communicable and non-communicable disease responses throughout the USAPIs. The DDM program has clearly demonstrated its positive impact on training a competent public health workforce who can provide the knowledge and skills to help protect the communities they serve.

The 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; 3) Masters 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 Manager, Hélène Le Mouëllic (

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