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An Important Partnership in Central America

Categories: health systems strengthening

 

Central America

On the streets of Tegucigalpa or San Salvador or Santo Domingo or in the capitals of five other Central American countries, few people would be able to provide an answer to this question: What is the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America’s (COMISCA)?

Dr. Nelson Arboleda, CDC Central American Regional Office Director

Dr. Nelson Arboleda, CDC Central American Regional Office Director

Despite the understandable lack of awareness, COMISCA has emerged as an important—and effective—mechanism for improving public health across the region. It has unified eight disparate nations into a singular force in the fight against leading causes of death and illness. CDC is one of COMISCA’s prime partners.

COMISCA’s mandate and reason for existence, in fact, is both straightforward and crucial: improve public health in a part of the world beset by health challenges, strained budgets, and technical limitations by joining forces and combining resources. The idea is that by locking arms, sharing data and logistics, and agreeing on a public health blueprint, people in every country will be better protected from illness.

That is good news for the member countries: Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. COMISCA is led by ministers of health from the countries with the Council’s chair rotating every 6 months.

Since its creation in 1991, COMISCA has shown promise almost from the start. Results, in fact, can already be found in each of the member countries. The ethos is captured in the title of a 2009 document outlining the goals and targets for 2010–2015: “United for the Health of Our People.”

Some of the goals are obvious. Consolidating national surveillance systems and sentinel integrated viral and bacterial diseases is one. Joining forces in a unified and comprehensive way in battle against HIV/AIDS is another. Refining the system for detecting influenza and other infectious diseases to make it more sensitive, accurate, and universal is yet another legitimate aspiration.

Its potential for success and capacity to join forces are the main reasons why CDC not only recognizes COMISCA’s promise but why CDC has fully embraced the organization by offering both financial and technical support, becoming CDC’s most important strategic partner.

CDC, in fact, is currently COMISCA’s largest funding partner, providing approximately $1.3 million per year. Laboratories and disease surveillance are two of the major focuses in the partnership. That emphasis is underscored by CDC’s five-year cooperative agreement with COMISCA designed to develop a regional public health surveillance and laboratory network in the region.

The agreement, which was finalized in 2010, provides funding and technical guidance necessary to create a more robust and effective surveillance network and an upgraded laboratory system. It also includes tools to improve emergency preparedness for Central America and the Dominican Republic while enhancing regional cooperation.

At its core, the goal is to build a more comprehensive surveillance platform that can effortlessly share public health information while also supporting the regional implementation of WHO/PAHO International Health Regulations.

Those are lofty but sufficiently vague goals. In real-life, on-the-ground terms, COMISCA has, in recent years, been a conduit for

  • Providing and orchestrating technical assistance and training to better detect and respond to the influenza pandemic in Central America. As part of that effort, it developed the “Guide to Respiratory Disease Surveillance of Nicaragua”; provided critical supplies and inputs to the National Laboratory of Honduras; and produced newsletters and other materials with product information and influenza surveillance results.
  • Working to integrate and harmonize the assortment of surveillance systems for HIV/AIDS used across the region. A key element of this effort is identifying gaps and needs in the surveillance network.
  • Creating a web portal to make it easier to share information.
  • Working broadly to meet International Health Regulations including upgrading tools and systems for detecting disease. These improved early warning tools “allow the use of historical data and…algorithms tailored to the country…[and to] issue alarms on abnormal behaviors of different diseases monitored by the information systems of the country.”
  • Developing protocols and guidelines for updating, strengthening, and standardizing laboratories across the region. A key element is sharing experiences to strengthen the entire systems. For example, Dominican health officials would share their experience and lessons learned in the diagnosis of cholera.

It’s a strong record with numerous and demonstrable achievements. But the challenges are also large and demonstrable which means the work of COMISCA and its partners, including CDC, is far from finished.

Indonesia Takes a Leadership Position in the Global Health Security Agenda

Categories: global health security

Maluku mom and kid with mosquito bed net (Photo courtesy of Edi Purnomo, UNICEF)

Photo courtesy of Edi Purnomo, UNICEF

Dr. William Hawley, Country Director for CDC-Indonesia

Dr. William Hawley, Country Director for CDC-Indonesia

As the world’s fourth most populated country, Indonesia plays an important strategic role in protecting the global community from infectious disease threats. As one of the early countries to take a leadership role in the Global Health Security (GHS) Agenda, the Government of Indonesia will welcome senior health and agricultural leaders from 36 countries and 12 international organizations for the next commitment meeting August 20-21. The meeting, “Building Global Commitment to Multisectoral Approaches to Manage Emerging Zoonotic Diseases in Support of the Global Health Security Agenda within the Framework of Public Health”, demonstrates the progress and growing momentum of the GHS Agenda.

The High Stakes in Fighting Ebola: Leave One Burning Ember and the Epidemic Could Re-Ignite

Categories: Ebola, global disease detection, global health security, health systems strengthening, infectious disease

 

This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post on August 7, 2014.

 

A banner encouraging people suffering from Ebola to go immediately to a health center for treatment is seen on a sidewalk in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. While the Ebola virus outbreak has now reached four countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone account for more than 60 percent of the deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The outbreak that emerged in March has claimed at least 932 lives. (AP Photo/Michael Duff)

(AP Photo/Michael Duff)

CDC and our partners are currently fighting the biggest and most complex outbreak of Ebola virus disease ever recorded.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden

There are hundreds of cases in West Africa and now a new cluster of cases in Nigeria is very concerning. The spread of Ebola shows what happens if we don’t have meticulous infection control, contact tracing, and proper isolation of those with symptoms of the disease.

There are two things that are very important to understand about how Ebola spreads.

The evidence suggests that Ebola only spreads from sick people—not from people who have been exposed to the disease but haven’t yet become sick from it. The illness has an average 8-10 day incubation period, although in rare instances the incubation period may be as short as two days or as long as 21 days, which is why we recommend monitoring for 21 days after any potential exposure.

Global Health Security in Africa: Collaborations Between CDC and African Partners

Categories: global health security

2012 investigation of Ebola virus in Uganda

2012 investigation of Ebola virus in Uganda

Thomas Kenyon, MD MPH, Director of CDC Center for Global Health

Thomas Kenyon, MD MPH, Director of CDC Center for Global Health

The ambition and scope of the Global Health Security Agenda are clear. Its reach can be discerned from the very first word: global. The Agenda’s overarching goal is just as expansive—making the world safer and more secure by preventing epidemics and outbreaks, detecting them more rapidly, and responding effectively to lessen the health, economic, and societal consequences from disease threats.

Less obvious, but no less true, is that African ownership will be central and fundamental in shaping the way the Global Health Security Agenda evolves worldwide, the way it is enacted and refined, and to a large extent, how it succeeds.

CDC and African nations have been close and successful partners for many decades in the battle to protect and improve public health. In many ways, the concepts, practices, and tools that are central to the Global Health Security Agenda are drawn from experiences honed with our partners in Africa over many years.

Strengthening Vaccination Systems – how it STARTs

Categories: immunization

On the road to Bukwo District (photo courtesy of George Momanyi)

On the road to Bukwo District (photo courtesy of George Momanyi)

George Momanyi, Public Health Nurse, START Consultant

George Momanyi, Public Health Nurse, START Consultant

George Momanyi, a public health nurse from Kenya, has twice served as a consultant with CDC’s Strengthening Technical Assistance for Routine Immunization Training (START) project in Uganda.  START, funded through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, provides mentoring and on-the-job training to district-level immunization officers and service providers in areas with high numbers of unimmunized children. START consultants make regular visits to district health officers and service providers, delivering training and reinforcing the application of practical job skills.  START’s objective is to build the capacity of program staff and thereby strengthen the overall immunization system. 

As a START consultant, George worked in eastern Uganda from July-December 2013, and in northern Uganda from February-June 2014. As he was ending his service on the 2nd START team in June, he sent us this blog about his experience.

CDC Scientist Fights Chikungunya

Categories: chikungunya, mosquito-borne disease

investigation in Comoros in 2005.

Investigation in Comoros in 2005.

Ann Powers, Ph.D., Research Microbiologist and Chief of the Alphavirus Laboratory in CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases

Ann Powers, Ph.D., Research Microbiologist and Chief of the Alphavirus Laboratory in CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases

One of the most telling signs of the complexity surrounding chikungunya is that educating people on pronouncing the name correctly is perhaps the easiest challenge.

I’m exposed to that truth more than most.  And for the record, it’s pronounced chick-un-goon-ya.

As a research microbiologist for CDC’s National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases, my job is to better understand and occasionally chase (literally) an often overlooked, mosquito-borne, threat to public health; one that holds the potential to spread sickness and misery in the United States.

Chikungunya is viral disease that is transmitted to people by two species of mosquitoes that are present in the United States. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, often called the Asian tiger mosquito, can be found in about a third of the U.S.  They are the same mosquito species that transmit dengue in much of the tropics.  And while chikungunya does not kill people, the toll it inflicts ranks high on the misery index; it hits fast and hard and with almost no subtlety. People infected with chikungunya typically experience high fever and severe joint pain soon after they are exposed. Sometimes those problems are long-lasting.

World Cup serving as real-world test for new disease detection technology

Categories: global disease detection, global health security, health systems strengthening, infectious disease

 

World Cup soccer ball

 

With the World Cup underway in all its frenzied glory, you can be forgiven for missing another major effort currently underway in Brazil that represents the first large scale, real-life, real-world test of important new technology.

And no, it’s not the goal-line technology that’s being used for the first time at soccer’s biggest competition.

This technology uses computer tablets, sophisticated software designed by CDC and public health experts from Brazil’s Ministry of Health (MOH) trained in the Field Epidemiological Training Program (FETP) to provide the most complete, detailed and timely information about disease threats and other public health concerns.

Polio Eradication, Microplanning and GIS

Categories: child health, immunization, polio

A Bugagi child travels by camel near Lake Chad in Borno State, Nigeria. Photo courtesy of Thomas Moran/WHO.

A Bugagi child travels by camel near Lake Chad in Borno State, Nigeria. Photo courtesy of Thomas Moran/WHO.

Victoria Gammino, PhD, MPH, Epidemiologist, CDC Global Immunization Division

Victoria Gammino, PhD, MPH, Epidemiologist, CDC Global Immunization Division

Geospatial data have been used in public health since John Snow mapped cholera cases around the Broad Street water pump during the London cholera epidemic of 1854.  And, while global positioning system technologies (GPS) are so ubiquitous in the United States that virtually all new smartphones, tablets and cars have this technology embedded, in many areas of the world, health care workers in the field are often without the most basic two-dimensional paper maps.

So what do maps and map literacy have to do with polio?  Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines. Therefore, the strategy to eradicate polio is based on preventing infection by immunizing every child to stop transmission of the virus that causes polio, and ultimately make the world polio free.   The four pillars of polio eradication all rely on “microplans”— detailed logistical blueprints that guide the planning and implementation of vaccination campaigns, routine immunization outreach, and surveillance for polio cases by providing critical data on the size and location of the target population in a given geographic area.  These target population numbers determine the amount of vaccine required, the number of health care workers and supervisors to deliver the vaccine, and the cost of transportation to get the vaccine and health care workers where they need to go.

CDC Staffers Take No Refuge From Helping Refugees Around the World

Categories: infectious disease, refugee health

A child plays with a kite in a tent camp after the earthquake, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 2010.

A child plays with a kite in a tent camp after the earthquake, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 2010.

For anybody wondering why CDC has a branch dedicated to helping refugees or why the United Nations has formally recognized World Refugee Day every year since it was created in 2001, the answer can be found in a single, stark statistic: In 2013, a person became a new refugee or internally displaced person every 4.1 seconds.

Michelle Dynes, PhD, MPH, MSN, CNM, RN, EIS Officer/Epidemiologist, CDC Emergency Response and Recovery Branch

Michelle Dynes, PhD, MPH, MSN, CNM, RN, EIS Officer/Epidemiologist, CDC Emergency Response and Recovery Branch

Cyrus Shahpar, MD, MBA, MPH, Medical Epidemiologist, CDC Emergency Response and Recovery Branch

Cyrus Shahpar, MD, MBA, MPH, Medical Epidemiologist, CDC Emergency Response and Recovery Branch

That translates to “a population of concern” of nearly 40 million refugees or internally displaced people worldwide every year, according to the United Nations.

It also translates to a lot of illnesses and suffering. And that’s the reason Cyrus Shahpar, Michelle Dynes and approximately 50 other staff in CDC’s Emergency Response and Recovery Branch (Division of Global Health Protection) have their bags packed and are constantly ready to deploy to the field.

Communication Matters in Global Health Deployments

Categories: global health security, infectious disease

During the simulation exercise, ECN trainees deployed to the site of a mock disaster in Avully, Switzerland.

During the simulation exercise, ECN trainees deployed to the site of a mock disaster in Avully, Switzerland.

Communication matters.

Gaya Gamhewage, MD, Coordinator, WHO Communication Capacity Building Team; Founder, WHO Emergency Communication Network

Gaya Gamhewage, MD, Coordinator, WHO Communication Capacity Building Team; Founder, WHO Emergency Communication Network

That’s not a new idea. Many of us have learned this the hard way. This concept is being applied in a new, more comprehensive way for a key purpose—to help the World Health Organization (WHO) communicate more effectively, with more clarity and purpose during humanitarian and public health emergencies.

The idea is to better integrate communications specialists from WHO, CDC, ministries of health and a wide array of other humanitarian and global health organizations into a cohesive, specially trained team that can be dispatched on short notice when public health or humanitarian emergencies occur.

The logic is based on the idea that communications is part and parcel of emergency health response. Communicating in a crisis not only provides the public and policy maker clear and critical information, it also can help the technical side of the response. It connects those affected with those willing to help and can make sure that resources are aligned to the most important needs.

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