The alert system ProMED reports quickly on outbreaks of emerging diseases around the globe – often times quicker than other well-known reporting systems. This can be explained by two main reasons: Informal reports on outbreaks can be made through a secure platform, and a worldwide staff of so-called subject matter experts is communicating on real-time basis, says ISID Program Director Dr. Britta Lassmann, who was interviewed by Carola Timmel.
ProMEDs subscribers often work under difficult circumstances (refugee camps, etc.) but provide very important information: „Our global network currently reaches over 80.000 subscribers (infectious disease physicians, public health officials, microbiologists, virologists, veterinarians etc. in 201 countries) who send us important information on outbreaks in their countries and regions“, says Dr. Britta Lassmann, programme director of the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID), which runs the ProMED system. “The large number of subscribers is due, among other things, to the fact that the information on emerging threats is communicated in real time and that informal reports can be submitted anonymously, encouraging physicans and others to report delicate information via the submit form on the ProMED website”, explains Lassmann.
“But this is only half of the story – a highly qualified team of experts is reviewing the information before posting it. They add valuable background and contextual information.“ This is a very demanding task, all the more since this has to be done quickly, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. „Let´s take for example Zika – ProMED has been covering the global emergence of Zika in detail since 2007 and already predicted that the virus will reach Brazil and South America long before other international organizations did“.
Besides ProMED, ISID has implemented a new system, called EpiCore, trying to actively involve a larger group of people to speed up the detection of new outbreaks. EpiCore recruits volunteers around the world with experience in public health, epidemiology or infectious diseases. Only three months after its start, EpiCore has already begun to yield results. For example, a mystery disease in Sudan (causing fever and serious illness in children) was initially suspected to be a hemorrhagic fever. An EpiCore volunteer in the region uncovered the actual cause – it was measles.
By the way: An EpiCore workshop will take place during the 6th International Meeting on Emerging Diseases and Surveillance, IMED 2016, in Vienna (4–7 November): „Drawing together human and veterinary health specialists, IMED serves as a true One Health forum where those working in diverse specialties and diverse regions can meet, discuss, present and challenge one another with findings and new ideas“, says Lassmann.