About NPHIs

To do the job of public health – detect, measure, and tackle health challenges through population-based interventions – every country must carry out a set of functions that are the cornerstone of strong public health systems. Key among these are: 

  • Population health assessment (assessing the health status of the population)
  • Health protection (surveillance and response)
  • Research (evidence to inform policies and programs)
Many countries consolidate these functions organizationally in a “national public health institute” – a science-based organization (or network of organizations) that provides leadership and coordination for public health at the national level. In most cases, NPHIs are part of the government (usually under the Ministry of Health) or closely attached to it.

The U.S. version of a national public health institute is the U.S. CDC in Atlanta. Similarly, there is the Health Protection Agency in the U.K., China CDC, and RIVM in the Netherlands. Some NPHIs, such as those in Brazil and Finland, have existed for decades. Others, such as the Public Health Agency of Canada, were created in the wake of major and dramatic public health crises that highlighted deficits in capacity, leadership, and coordination. Countries such as Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique are actively working to create new NPHIs with IANPHI assistance. 

The world's NPHIs vary greatly. Yet, despite their differences in history, scope, and resources, NPHIs all provide core public health functions that improve their countries’ efforts to address health challenges both within and beyond their borders. Consolidating these functions — and the associated skills, disciplines, experience, and expertise — in an NPHI provides many benefits:
  • Improved delivery of public health services
  • More efficient use of funds
  • Ability to generate and share knowledge, data, and evidence to inform public health decisions and policies
  • Increased capacity to mount a quick, decisive, and coordinated response during a public health emergency
  • Visible national leadership for public health issues
  • Ability to develop public health policy agendas and resource allocation in line with the country’s own priorities
  • Consistent policies and harmonized procedures
  • Linkages among all those working to improve public health in the country
NPHIs also create a central focus for human resources in public health and provide a career path and nucleus of public health professionals to carry out core functions.

NPHIs reduce costly bureaucratic redundancies and allow countries to respond more quickly to public health crises.