Health surveillance: the bedrock of health security

Health surveillance: the bedrock of health security

Global health security relies on a foundation of robust national and regional surveillance systems, and the World Health Organization’s new concept of collaborative surveillance aims to strengthen the global health architecture 

The Covid-19 pandemic and other health emergencies have revealed that in the realm of global health security, the bedrock lies in the robustness of national and regional surveillance systems. Acknowledging this, the World Health Organization launched the concept of collaborative surveillance in May 2023. This approach aims to boost both surveillance capabilities and collaboration, not just within the health sector, but also extending beyond it. The goal is to enhance our understanding of public health matters and provide better evidence for making informed decisions and taking effective actions. It is a key element within the WHO’s framework to strengthen the global architecture for health emergency prevention, preparedness, response and resilience.

A reimagined world

With the implementation of collaborative surveillance, we reimagine a world where decision makers can leverage public health intelligence across geographies, sectors and disease outbreaks. This could empower national, regional and global institutions to detect emerging threats, communicate effectively, respond rapidly and refine strategies continually. At its core, collaborative surveillance can reduce the fragmentation of surveillance systems, fostering interconnectedness among data sources and solutions.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it became evident that harnessing established solutions and swiftly tailoring them in order to identify and control outbreaks was essential. Minimising repetitive work holds great significance in our response to pandemics. The time allocated to duplicative tasks might impede sharing knowledge, distributing resources, providing medical aid and performing other vital actions. Ultimately, this could significantly affect our ability to effectively respond to local outbreaks, epidemics or even pandemics.

Harnessing the power of open source solutions became a promising intervention, proving to be adaptable and effective for the monitoring, surveillance, detection and prevention of Covid-19. Among these solutions, CommCare and the Community Health Toolkit were rapidly customised to align with pandemic needs. They did not reinvent the wheel but rather built upon past experiences, including the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. Another exemplar, the Surveillance Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System, was quickly adapted by integrating a Covid-19 disease module. This was made available to countries that already had SORMAS as part of their surveillance infrastructure.

One of our key objectives at the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, aligned with the WHO Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020–2025, is to promote global collaboration and sharing of digital health knowledge and expertise.

Characterised by open accessibility to source code and a collaborative development approach, open source solutions promise inclusivity for software developers worldwide. This approach encourages developers from diverse parts of the world to contribute to locally and globally adopted digital solutions, promoting adaptability and enhanced support services. Embracing open source provides pathways for collaborative innovation, underscoring the potential for equitable growth across countries.

For sustainable progress

In the context of a rapidly evolving world with increasing risks of health emergencies, interoperability and technology reuse stand as keystones for sustainable progress in digital health. Interoperability standards enable the seamless data exchange across disparate systems, embedding digital health solutions into existing technological ecosystems and securing their versatility across different contexts.

The WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, embedded in the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, launched the first Open Source Programme Office in the United Nations system. Our goal is to champion the development and adoption of open source solutions for pandemic and epidemic responses. The OSPO steers the course by offering open source collaboration frameworks, advisory services for building open source contributor communities, and managing potential open source software-associated risks.

In developing and promoting environments that encourage collaboration among innovators and experts, it is important that we break down existing barriers and unite fragmented endeavours within the realm of pandemic and epidemic intelligence. Only through such multifaceted collaboration, which includes using open source solutions, can we ensure the seamless integration of pandemic and epidemic response systems into the existing framework of health systems. This united front is part of our commitment to global health security.