Peer-to-Peer Model in Action
On October 14-18, 2013, France’s Institute for Public Health Surveillance (InVS) welcomed a public health leadership team from Togo: Dr. Koku Sika Dogbe (Director General of Health), Dr. Tsidi Agbeko Tamekloe (Head of the Ministry of Health’s Communicable Diseases Surveillance Unit) and Dr. Abiba Banla (Director of the National Institute of Hygiene [INH]). The meeting’s goal was to support INH in strengthening its capacity in epidemic intelligence and public health surveillance.
In Togo, public health surveillance functions are currently divided between INH, whose primary mission is to confirm cases, and the Communicable Diseases Surveillance Unit. Both organizations are working together, however, toward creating one comprehensive, fully functional national public health institute.
During the week at InVS, the participants exchanged views on their respective public health status and challenges, while taking into account Togo’s national context. The meeting addressed the general goal of strengthening Togo’s capacity to address existing public health issues as well as new and emerging conditions such as non-communicable diseases.
“From my country’s perspective it is tricky to differentiate epidemic intelligence (“veille,” in French) from surveillance,” said Dr. Tamekloe. “It is now clearer to me, after spending time at InVS, what the two actions imply and how they differ from one another .…Today, it is crucial for us to use, in the most effective way, the resources we have to target the most pressing health-related challenges our country is facing and to implement effective public health surveillance.”
“It is interesting to see how the French NPHI is organized and how it operates in its broader context as well as internally, especially as InVS does not encompass laboratories, while INH does”, said Dr. Banla. She added, “We also realize how important it is to tackle non-communicable diseases that are more and more present in our country. Today we have a few focal points working on the issue, but we need to invest more in this increasing burden …. Thanks to this visit, we’ll go back to Togo having met interesting and interested colleagues willing to collaborate with our country, which I am very happy about.”
Doriane Fuchs of InVS was pleased to accompany the delegation during their stay and explained: “It was a pleasure to witness how interested the team was in all of the presentations. It was not only the team from Togo learning about how the French public health surveillance system works, but also us learning how they operate in Togo. The next step is to try to get the most out of the visit here and adapt it to the local specificities for the new NPHI.”
Reminded of his previous visits to Togo, Dr. Jean-Claude Desenclos (Deputy Director for Science, InVS) congratulated the delegation on their commitment and progress toward NPHI development. Pleased that the three colleagues enjoyed their visit to France, he assured them that he was “looking forward to further collaboration in the future.”
Unique Model of Collaboration
One of IANPHI’s distinctive features and strengths is a peer-assistance approach that facilitates sharing of expertise and experience among member NPHIs.
The assistance model clearly benefits the recipient NPHI by identifying strategies to address priority needs and raising standards of performance for organizing and conducting core public health functions, such as disease surveillance.
But it rewards the contributing institute as well – by sharing skills and assets to benefit others while also linking resources and solutions to address regional and global threats and opportunities.
For the network of IANPHI members, the model provides unique opportunities for NPHIs to link with others that are geographically or linguistically similar or struggling with similar technical or programmatic issues like information system development or pandemic preparedness. This model of collaboration also provides a platform for developing research or programs to deal with shared issues, whether laboratory safety or avian influenza, tobacco use or injury.
We urge all IANPHI members to seek opportunities for linking and partnering with NPHI colleagues for mutual assistance and collective learning.