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Emerg Health Threats J. 2013;6. doi: 10.3402/ehtj.v6i0.19913. Epub 2013 Jan 25.

The evolution and expansion of regional disease surveillance networks and their role in mitigating the threat of infectious disease outbreaks.

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  • 1Rockefeller Foundation Southeast Asia and Africa Regional Offices, USA.

Abstract

We examine the emergence, development, and value of regional infectious disease surveillance networks that neighboring countries worldwide are organizing to control cross-border outbreaks at their source. The regional perspective represented in the paper is intended to serve as an instructive framework for others who decide to launch such networks as new technologies and emerging threats bring countries even closer together. Distinct from more formal networks in geographic regions designated by the World Health Organization (WHO), these networks usually involve groupings of fewer countries chosen by national governments to optimize surveillance efforts. Sometimes referred to as sub-regional, these "self-organizing" networks complement national and local government recognition with informal relationships across borders among epidemiologists, scientists, ministry officials, health workers, border officers, and community members. Their development over time reflects both incremental learning and growing connections among network actors; and changing disease patterns, with infectious disease threats shifting over time from local to regional to global levels. Not only has this regional disease surveillance network model expanded across the globe, it has also expanded from a mostly practitioner-based network model to one that covers training, capacity-building, and multidisciplinary research. Today, several of these networks are linked through Connecting Organizations for Regional Disease Surveillance (CORDS). We explore how regional disease surveillance networks add value to global disease detection and response by complementing other systems and efforts, by harnessing their power to achieve other goals such as health and human security, and by helping countries adapt to complex challenges via multi-sectoral solutions. We note that governmental commitment and trust among participating individuals are critical to the success of regional infectious disease surveillance networks.

KEYWORDS:

International Health Regulations; SARS; cross-border; disease surveillance; pandemics; regional networks; trust

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