In accordance with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) working plan, an evaluation of the EpiNorth project achievements and possibilities for further cooperation was undertaken by the ECDC evaluation team on December 1-3, 2008 in Oslo.
Currently nine EU/EFTA countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Poland), eleven regions of Northwestern Russia (St. Petersburg, Leningrad, Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, Novgorod, Pskov, Kaliningrad, Vologda Oblasts, the Republic of Karelia, the Republic of Komi and Nenets Autonomous Okrug), Ukraine and Belarus are collaborating in the EpiNorth project. Geographically, EpiNorth is one of the most wide-ranging health projects in Europe.
The northern countries of the European Union and neighbouring regions of the Northwestern Russia as well as Ukraine and Belarus have been facing during the last decade serious challenges in the field of communicable disease epidemiology, and particularly for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, anti-microbial resistance and sexually transmitted infections. The Nordic countries, and specially Norway, have jointly organized cooperation in order to face these challenges since 1998 and from 2000 under the banner of EpiNorth. The Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health leads the EpiNorth project.
The overall aim of the EpiNorth project has been to improve communicable disease control and communication in the region in order to reduce the spread of priority communicable diseases and thereby to improve public health in these parts of Europe. The main activities of the EpiNorth project are the EpiNorth Journal, EpiNorth Data, EpiTrain, EpiNews, EpiWatch, EpiScience, EpiVax, Epiwords and EpiLinks.
The evaluation team emphasized the following as the most important findings:
a) the valuable role of communication and exchange of information in the EpiNorth Journal between English and Russian speaking readers and public health professionals in the region;
b) the importance of the EpiTrain activity; courses in intervention epidemiology of communicable diseases provided to epidemiologists from Baltic countries and Northwestern Russia have given an added opportunity to diminish differences in interpretation of epidemiological concepts and facilitate professional communication of public health specialists of the EpiNorth region;
c) the activity of EpiWatch as the epidemic intelligence function of the project that scans news for information concerning outbreaks of communicable diseases from the Nordic and Baltic countries, the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine in order to provide early warnings on possible biological threats to countries of the EpiNorth region.
As a result of the evaluation, the ECDC evaluation team gave the following main recommendations:
- There is a significant potential for collaboration between the EpiNorth project and the ECDC. It is recommended that a multi-annual strategic cooperation agreement be developed.
- The long-term continuity and financial sustainability of the EpiNorth project is a priority that should be addressed. Until a long-term plan is in place, a continuation with the existing grant agreement approach is recommended.
- A Management Board of the project consisting of representative stakeholders should be established.
- The full list of current stakeholders should be clarified.
- The EpiNorth project should consolidate its existing activities with the current in-depth development rather than expanding further.
- The EpiNorth project should improve the level of synergy and cooperation with WHO Euro, The International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI), health ministries and national public health institutes of other countries.
- Any future contacts between the EpiNorth project and the ECDC should have a strategic approach in the context of the ECDC strategic multi-annual work programme and external relations strategy.