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Open Access Research article

Detection of events of public health importance under the international health regulations: a toolkit to improve reporting of unusual events by frontline healthcare workers

Emily MacDonald1*, Preben Aavitsland1, Dounia Bitar2 and Katrine Borgen1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway

2 Infectious Diseases Department, Institut de Veille Sanitaire, Paris, France

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:713  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-713

Published: 21 September 2011

Abstract

Background

The International Health Regulations (IHR (2005)) require countries to notify WHO of any event which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern. This notification relies on reports of events occurring at the local level reaching the national public health authorities. By June 2012 WHO member states are expected to have implemented the capacity to "detect events involving disease or death above expected levels for the particular time and place" on the local level and report essential information to the appropriate level of public health authority. Our objective was to develop tools to assist European countries improve the reporting of unusual events of public health significance from frontline healthcare workers to public health authorities.

Methods

We investigated obstacles and incentives to event reporting through a systematic literature review and expert consultations with national public health officials from various European countries. Multi-day expert meetings and qualitative interviews were used to gather experiences and examples of public health event reporting. Feedback on specific components of the toolkit was collected from healthcare workers and public health officials throughout the design process.

Results

Evidence from 79 scientific publications, two multi-day expert meetings and seven qualitative interviews stressed the need to clarify concepts and expectations around event reporting in European countries between the frontline and public health authorities. An analytical framework based on three priority areas for improved event reporting (professional engagement, communication and infrastructure) was developed and guided the development of the various tools. We developed a toolkit adaptable to country-specific needs that includes a guidance document for IHR National Focal Points and nine tool templates targeted at clinicians and laboratory staff: five awareness campaign tools, three education and training tools, and an implementation plan. The toolkit emphasizes what to report, the reporting process and the need for follow-up, supported by real examples.

Conclusion

This toolkit addresses the importance of mutual exchange of information between frontline healthcare workers and public health authorities. It may potentially increase frontline healthcare workers' awareness of their role in the detection of events of public health concern, improve communication channels and contribute to creating an enabling environment for event reporting. However, the effectiveness of the toolkit will depend on the national body responsible for dissemination and training.