New EU legislations relating to prevention, preparedness and response to public health emergencies, plus the ongoing revisions to the International Health Regulations pose challenges for member states as they gear up to meet the regulatory requirements. This was a key focus of the Public Health Emergencies Detection and Surveillance Workshop held on the 6 and 7 July 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Useful resources for national IHR training plans supports strengthened preparedness for threats to health
With a view to stronger EU health security, the training materials for Implementing Public Health Surveillance are now available for member states from the SHARP JA Training Platform. This is a dynamic repository of the training material developed and delivered during the joint action and hosted by SHARP Joint Action work package 8 lead, the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut”.
The range of training materials can be adapted to individual country contexts and integrated within national training initiatives for strengthening preparedness and response to public emergencies. To access the training platform, create a New account (batut.org.rs).
Public health surveillance
Public health surveillance is the continuous, systematic data collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of health-related data and information for planning, implementing, and evaluating public health practice. It involves monitoring and evaluation of pertinent data and information with prompt dissemination of results to those who need to know, particularly those who can take action, fundamental to protection and control.
From the many lessons learned from COVID-19 (State of Health preparedness report BRUSSELS 2022) a fresh approach is being catalysed for public health emergencies detection and surveillance.
To better detect, assess, evaluate and take the right decisions and adjustments of public health measures, Epidemic Intelligence became an essential instrument to ensure early detection of health incidents, through data collect and information compilation from diverse sources of information and integrate them into reports at national and international level supporting decision making.
Informed decisions on adaptation of health protection measures and countermeasures required complex datasets. Clinical, laboratorial, and epidemiological data complemented with information related to hospital discharges, services capacity – including equipment, devices, and human resources. Monitoring of community risk perception, behaviours, vaccine coverage, media, and social media misinformation.
From this complicated mix, the right information management and data analysis drove public health experts to redefine daily activities, using new digital tools to collect, integrate, display, and analyse data to build knowledge to support decision making and guide the right actions.
In January 2021 a SHARP Joint Action report on IHR (2005) training needs relating to IHR capacity had found that surveillance training was a priority for EU member states. More than ever, public health experts globally need to use the post-pandemic phase to consolidate experience, build new knowledge and cement new skills and competencies for public health emergency preparedness and response. The Public Health Emergencies Detection and Surveillance Workshop helps meet the need to improve surveillance capacity via knowledge and practice exchange.
Collecting data from diverse sources of information and integrating into reports at national and international level allows for better detection, assessment of risk, and more effective decisions when planning, implementing, and evaluating public health interventions. Capacity building is one of the main challenges anticipated in meeting the new regulations.
Public Health Emergencies Detection and Surveillance Workshop
To meet this need an expertly devised workshop was developed by SHARP Joint Action, co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union and hosted/delivered by Direção-Geral da Saúde | Directorate-General of Health, Portugal in collaboration with the National Institute of Public Health “Dr Milan Jovanović Batut”, Serbia and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health on 6 and 7 July 2023. Around seventy participants from sixteen countries gained substantial value from the training – gaining knowledge on the new EU regulations: in addition to expertise, professional experience and best practice exchange, identification of shared challenges and expanding their network of experts.
Epidemiologist; policy advisors and public health professionals from Serbia, Norway, Slovak Republic, Finland, United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy, Greece, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Ireland, and Malta convened to improve their knowledge on the development of integrated surveillance systems.
The workshop included plenary sessions, working groups and discussions covering the fundamental areas of surveillance – information management, data analysis, risk assessment and reporting to support decision making. A cross-country, avian-flu scenario was used to motivate participants to share expertise and experience on the best surveillance types, procedures, tools, and resources to use in responding to the outbreak.
Participants went through a series of modules led experienced experts on:
- Types of surveillance
- Sources of information
- Data integration – health sector database/information and other sectors sources
- Emergency Response Information Management System – WHO Europe initiative
- Surveillance improvement and challenges at ECDC
- Data analysis – methods and challenges – experience from United Kingdom/Wales
- Surveillance system evaluation – attributes-based evaluation
- How Can Countries Improve Integrated Disease Surveillance Systems? Key points from the IANPHI Integrated Disease Surveillance Project Summary Report June 2023.
Paula Vasconcelos from the Directorate-General of Health, Portugal and Milena Vasic, head of the Department for European Integrations, International Cooperation and Project Management at the Institute of Public Health of Serbia concluded the session with a summary of key learning points and a potential way forward for member states. Download the presentation SHARP JA Conclusions 6 and 7July2023 (PDF. 5.78 MB.)
Government thought leadership
One of SHARP Joint Action’s broader objectives is to gain consensus from EU policymakers on its work in strengthening preparedness in the EU against serious cross-border threats to health and improving the capacity to implement International Health Regulations (2005). The focus is all hazards, cross sectoral and intra-state collaboration to better protect the health of our citizens.
Several SHARP initiatives have been supported by member state governments, with special remarks from Latvian authorities at the workshop in Riga in March 2023, and the Finnish authorities during the SHARP conference in Helsinki in June 2023.
Post pandemic, governments remain highly aware of the role and challenges of public health in protecting our society. Recognising that quality data and early detection instruments as such as epidemic intelligence provide the adequate information and evidence to guide intervention strategies and robust policies. For national ministries, the workshop provided a primer on the considerations of developing integrated surveillance systems in future policy. Plus, the investment necessary for preparedness for responding to emerging threats.
The workshop opened with a clear message on for identification of common best practices among participants from the Portuguese deputy Director of Health, André Peralta Santos.
The workshop concluded with a short speech by Margarida Tavares, Secretary of State for the Promotion of Health, Portugal. Ms Tavares spoke in support of the surveillance principles conveyed during the workshop and touched on aspects of the broader EU narrative as the new treaty on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response is negotiated. Ms Tavares stressed how partnerships with other sectors and community groups adds pivotal contributions to supporting effective preparedness, aligning with the One Health concept. She applauded the knowledge sharing seen throughout the workshop and welcomes further cooperation to aid decision-making at political level. And looks forward to the other outcomes of the Joint action which give a clear demonstration of the added value of collaboration on national challenges.
View the video of the speech made at the Public Health Emergencies Detection and Surveillance Workshop, Lisbon in July 2023 by Margarida Tavares, Secretary of State for the Promotion of Health, Portugal.