BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Global Health: Disease Surveillance Systems



Disease surveillance systems are continuous, systematic and standardized information-based systems which involve the collection, analysis and interpretation of large volumes of health-related data obtained from a variety of sources. Surveillance data are used for different purposes including evaluating the effectiveness of control and preventative measures, monitoring changes in infectious agents such as antimicrobial resistance, supporting health planning, allocating resources within the healthcare system, identifying high risk populations or target areas and providing valuable archive of disease activity for future reference. To be effective, a surveillance system must be nationally standardized and made available at local, regional and national levels.

The importance of surveillance is well documented by World Health Organization and other international organizations because it is used for the planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health practice. It also aids the documentation or evaluation of interventions, provides information that serves as early warning for impending public health problems and monitors disease epidemiology to allow prioritization and inform public health policies and strategies.

The realization of the importance of disease surveillance systems increased in the late 20th century due to the emergence of human immunodeficiency virus and infectious diseases mainly new strains of influenza. Following this realization, some disastrous events further emphasized the need for surveillance systems in the early 21st century and raised awareness of the value of public health surveillance for national security. Given their tragic nature, these disasters further showed the need to share global responsibility for surveillance and disease control. Some of these events include bioterrorism using anthrax spores in 2001, 2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), re-emergence of a panzootic of avian influenza A(H5N1) in 2005, and the sudden emergence of pandemic H1N1 in North America in 2009.

Disease surveillance systems are essential for the identification and prevention of new and re-emerging infectious and non-infectious diseases. It provides health information in a timely manner, enabling countries to have the information they need to prevent and fight outbreaks. The development and maintenance of effective surveillance systems have helped address several public health problems such as small pox and poliomyelitis, which were eradicated following the initiation of efficient surveillance systems that provided insight about the epidemiology and etiology of the infectious agent and disease. Given these facts, it’s no doubt that one of the major ways of addressing public health problems around infectious diseases both nationally and internationally is through the development and sustenance of effective surveillance systems.

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