Disease Surveillance helps countries assess the health of their populations in order for them to identify what diseases are affecting their communities and the prevalence of specific diseases for elimination efforts. At The Task Force, a number of our programs work with countries to provide effective field-based tools and strategies for disease surveillance and ensuring that the country has sustainable capacity to conduct ongoing disease surveillance.
Public health programs targeting infectious diseases require sophisticated systems for monitoring changes in health status within populations. These systems include trained frontline health workers who can recognize disease outbreaks, diagnostic technologies that can identify infections, and health information systems to manage data.
As COVID-19 demonstrated, countries around the world lack robust disease surveillance systems. This can be due to insufficient resources, inadequate public health capacity, and outdated or poor health information systems. As a result, populations are at greater risk of disease outbreaks that can spread uncontrollably, leading to deadly epidemics and pandemics like Ebola and COVID-19.
With our partners, we support a range of public health activities to help countries build the
public health capacity needed for strong disease surveillance.
Our Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET) supports 71 field epidemiology training programs in more than 100 countries that include an emphasis on how to prevent, identify, and respond to disease outbreaks. Training programs focus on how to use both traditional and nontraditional sources of information for surveillance and how to improve overall surveillance systems in country. We also lead training programs for frontline health workers on identifying cases of emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika. Training programs we helped develop in Latin America and the Caribbean include support for strengthened laboratory capacity to monitor the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the vector for the Zika virus and other diseases including dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya.”
Supporting Surveillance Projects
TEPHINET manages projects in developing countries that help strengthen their disease surveillance in the following areas:
- Public health applied research and surveillance which includes projects like Evaluating and Enhancing Maternal and Prenatal Death Surveillance and Response,
- Strengthening field epidemiology training programs which includes projects like Developing a FETP Cancer Curriculum,
- Strengthening public health infrastructure which includes projects like Innovative and Sustainable Global Laboratory Training and Efficiency Enhancement, and
- Non-communicable disease detection, prevention, and elimination which includes projects like Advancing Birth Defects Count.
These projects help regions and countries improve their disease surveillance efforts ultimately strengthening their health system.
Surveying the “Last Mile” of Disease Elimination
In our programs to eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), we support mapping studies
using a variety of surveillance technologies to understand prevalence levels within populations. These studies help track progress in reaching elimination goals and inform programmatic decisions about when mass treatment can be stopped. We also design and test novel transmission assessment surveys that can identify lower NTD prevalence levels than can be detected with conventional methods. Looking ahead, we are working with partners to deploy integrated surveillance approaches using multiplex assays for detecting the prevalence of multiple pathogens within populations. This technology is expected to vastly improve understanding of the health profiles of communities in developing countries where NTDs are endemic.
Logging Disease Surveillance Information
Our expertise in health information systems has been critical to understanding the causes of
childhood mortality in developing countries and strengthening U.S. public health’s ability to
detect disease outbreaks. We have developed a sophisticated information system to manage
data collected about childhood deaths in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
This system will be a vital tool for supporting surveillance of disease outbreaks that can
threaten the health and lives of children in these countries. Finally, in the United States, we are
working with the nation’s largest health systems and U.S. public health to implement a single
standard for exchanging electronic information about cases of reportable infectious diseases.
When fully implemented, this standard will help ensure public health agencies have access to
timely information about potential disease outbreaks in communities.
Three Task Force representatives join the 65th session of the United Nations’
Field epidemiologists are an essential part of a country’s health workforce, providing
Strengthen Countries' Capacity to Identify Infectious Diseases
Where We Work
To find where we work on disease surveillance training, click here and look under ITI, NTD-SC, PHII, and TEPHINET.
Header photo caption: Researchers use diagnostic tools to test prevalence of onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis in a community in Cameroon.