From the field side of the binoculars: a different view on global public health surveillance

Health Policy Plan. 2007 Jan;22(1):13-20. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czl035.


It is generally assumed by the donor community that the targeted funding of global, regional or cross-border surveillance programmes is an efficient way to support resource-poor countries in developing their own national public health surveillance infrastructure, to encourage national authorities to share outbreak intelligence, and ultimately to ensure compliance of World Health Organization (WHO) Member States with the revised (2005) International Health Regulations. At country level, a number of factors and constraints appear to contradict this view. Global or regional surveillance initiatives, including syndromic surveillance and rumour surveillance projects, have been conceived in neglect of fragile health systems, from which they extract scarce human resources. In contradiction with a rightful stance promoting 'integrated surveillance' by WHO, the nurturing of donor-driven, poorly coordinated and redundant surveillance networks generally adds further fragmentation to national health priorities set up by developing countries. In their current categorical format, ignoring the overwhelming deficits in governance and health care capacity, global surveillance strategies seem bound to benefit mainly the most industrially developed nations through the provision of early warning information or scientific data. In lower-income countries, a focus of resources on strengthening the health system first would ultimately be a more efficient way to achieve proper detection and response to outbreaks at national or sub-national level. As documented in several pilot initiatives at sub-national level (India, South Africa, Tuvalu and Cambodia), the empowerment of frontline health workers and communities is a key element for an efficient surveillance system. Such simple measures centred on human resources and community values appear to be more beneficial than massive and conditional monetary inputs.

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Developing Countries*
  • Humans
  • Laos
  • Population Surveillance*