In a region prone to emerging infectious diseases and other public health events, ASEAN Plus Three Countries mobilize epidemiologists and other health professionals to detect, assess, prevent and control outbreaks of public health concern. The increase in population, globalization and the recent outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian influenza (H5N1) and influeza A (H1N1) illustrate the crucial role of epidemiology and the need for communication within the region. Each nation needs sufficient capacity to ensure a prompt public health response in order to protect the public and reduce socio-economic loss.
Effective human resource capacity development is found through Field Epidemiology Training (FET). Commonly found among the Ministries of ASEAN Plus Three Countries, the two-year FET Program (FETP) provides applied field-based epidemiology training to health professionals. Some countries have implemented similar programs of FET, such as Malaysia's Epidemic Intelligence Program (EIP) and Lao PDR's FET, Laos. Some programs have expanded to include veterinarians, a program known as FETP-V, and include health professionals from other countries, known as International FETP (IFETP). These programs strengthen existing public health systems and infrastructures.
Since the 1980s, there have been FETPs in Indonesia, Thailand and The Philippines. In 2002, Malaysia established the EIP. Lao PDR launched FET, Laos in 2009. In the past decade, Cambodia, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Vietnam have developed an FETP. Although Brunei Darussalam and Myanmar do not have conventional programs, national units are responsible for providing short training courses to health officers.
At the 4rth ASEAN Plus Three Health Ministers Meeting in July 2010, the 13 Health Ministers expressed their support to further the development of networking among field epidemiology training programs among the ASEAN Plus Three Countries to heighten vigilance, preparedness, capacity, communication and collaboration. At the ASEAN+3 Expert Group on Communicable Diseases (AEGCD) Meeting in November 2010, Thailand's Ministry of Public Health was endorsed to be the focal point for this important initiative. In January 2011, Program Directors and the Authorities of field epidemiology training programs in ASEAN Member States and Plus Three Countries coalesced in Bangkok to establish the ASEAN Plus Three Field Epidemiology Training Network (ASEAN+3 FETN). In October 2011, the first ASEAN+3 FETN Steering Committee Meeting successfully agreed on a working mechanism, strategies and activities under the four-year workplan (2012-1015). Since this meeting, ASEAN+3 FETN has continued to work harmoniously and agreed activities have commenced.