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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Surveillance and Response


A health clinic in Honduras.Disease outbreaks around the world are certain. The recent outbreak of infectious diseases such as SARS, Ebola, and avian influenza, and fears about bioterrorism demonstrate the importance of global disease surveillance, pooling of research efforts to help identify pathogens, and international cooperation to develop diagnostic tests, prevention measures, and treatments.

Public health surveillance is the collection, analysis, interpretation, and sharing of disease information essential to the implementation of public health practice. Ideally surveillance data is timely, complete, and of high quality. In reality however, collected information can be delayed, incomplete, or sometimes nonexistent. Further, countries might fail to report surveillance data quickly because of inadequate health infrastructure, poorly trained staff, weak reporting mechanisms, or inadequate diagnostic laboratory capacity. Some countries might also be reluctant to report surveillance data to the international community for fear that such information could be damaging to their national reputations or economies.

A health worker greets a mother and child in Java, Indonesia.Timely reporting of surveillance information is essential for rapid and effective response to disease outbreaks. Public health response is the implementation of public health interventions for outbreak control and might include investigation, confirmation of diagnosis, handling of dangerous pathogens, case detection, and containment.

Strengthening national public health surveillance and response systems is essential to preventing and controlling outbreaks within countries. Strengthening international cooperation on surveillance and response is equally vital to limiting the international spread of disease. Existing international surveillance networks include GOARN [the Global Outbreak and Response Network of the World Health Organization (WHO)].

GOARN is a technical collaboration of existing networks and institutions including United Nations organizations, the Red Cross, and WHO Member State medical and surveillance initiatives and networks of laboratories. It aims to verify outbreaks and share information with the network so that international assistance can be activated, coordinated, and effectively supported with technical expertise. The Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) participates actively in GOARN and joins WHO in responding to health emergencies around the world. CDC and the U.S. Agency for International Development also work bilaterally with other countries, to respond to crises, but also to train personnel and to build national capacity in epidemiology.

Chickens are often subjects of animal surveillance.National and international cooperation between those who do animal and human health surveillance is also important because so many human diseases have animal origins. Better communication between animal and health experts could aid efforts to quickly identify emerging disease risks to human health.

Good national public health is a critical component of a nation's security and stability. Good global public health is a critical component of global security and stability. Strong national and international surveillance and response mechanisms help to ensure good public health. IHB is committed to safeguarding U.S. national security by supporting efforts to strengthen national and international surveillance and response systems.

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