EpiNorth Network - a New Project on Communicable Disease Cooperation in Northeastern Europe

  Published: 10.01.13 Updated: 10.01.2013 12:54:36

H Blystad, G Rimšelienė, T Pachkouskaya, K Rønning
EpiNorth secretarial team, Norwegian Institute of Public Health

Citation: Blystad H, Rimšelienė G, Pachkouskaya T, Rønning K. EpiNorth Network - a New Project on Communicable Disease Cooperation in Northeastern Europe. EpiNorth 2012;13:121-2.

At the end of this year the EpiNorth project in its present form will end. As a consequence, this will be the last published issue of the EpiNorth Journal. This marks nearly 14 years of close cooperation aimed at improving infectious disease control and communication in Northeastern Europe in order to reduce the spread of diseases and improve public health. A lot of work has been done and many professional and personal connections have been established during this period. Through networking, communication and data exchange, this unique collaboration has made it possible to detect threats caused by infectious diseases and strengthen control measures in the region.

The collaboration has included the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) and the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). It also includes the northwestern part of the Russian Federation comprising seven oblasts or regions (Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Vologda, Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Novgorod, and Pskov), two republics (Komi and Karelia), Nenets autonomous okrug and the city of St. Petersburg. In 2008, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland joined the EpiNorth project. Since 2000 the main financial contributor to the EpiNorth project has been the Norwegian Barents Health Programme. Close cooperation with the European Union has been made possible with co-financing from the EU Public Health Programme (2004-06) and during the last six years from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Compared with the late 1990s and early 2000s, the epidemiological situation for most communicable diseases in the Barents- and Baltic Sea area has improved considerably. However, the incidence of tuberculosis has remained high in the area, both in terms of reported number of cases and proportion of multi drug-resistant strains. The spread of tuberculosis and HIV-infection still represents one of the most important public health challenges in the Barents and Baltic Sea area. The favorable epidemiological situation for most of the communicable diseases in the region may be attributed to many factors. Hopefully, the EpiNorth project has contributed to this favorable situation through exchange visits, training courses, surveillance data collection, the publication of scientific articles and epidemic intelligence functions.

At the joint Annual EpiNorth Meeting and Regional Epidemiologists’ Meeting in Helsinki in June 2012 representatives of participating regions and countries discussed cooperation beyond 2012. Particpants clearly stated that EpiNorthData, EpiWatch and the EpiNorth Journal should be continued in future cooperative projects. The importance of continuing the network and the annual conference was emphasized.

Future cooperation
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has through the Barents Health Programme applied for funds to create a new 3-year project called The EpiNorth Network. The project will consist of two subprojects: EpiNorth Web and EpiNorth Conference.

EpiNorth Web
This new website will consist of four modules: EpiNorthWatch (epidemic intelligence), EpiNorthData (incidence data), EpiNorthVax (vaccination schedules) and Archive. EpiNorthWatch will include a daily search and validation of news on infectious disease outbreaks and reports in the region and countries of interest published on the websites of public health institutions. News will be translated (English and Russian) and updated several times a week. Media news will be obtained through MedISys (ECDC) and PULS (University of Helsinki) automated search programmes. Network partners will actively collaborate in the validation of news on request from the project secretariat by email or phone. EpiNorthData will collect incidence data on a number of important infectious diseases with subsequent analysis and reporting. EpiNorthVax will provide updated vaccination schedules and vaccine recommendations for children and adults in participating countries. All of the elements of the former EpiNorth website will be accessible through Archive.

EpiNorth Conference
An annual conference for project partners will be organised in late spring/early summer in collaboration with ECDC. The meeting will consist of two parts: an overview and discussion addressing current infectious diseases in the EpiNorthNetwork region. Situation reports will be presented by network partners and selected topic by invited specialists.

We hope to receive a positive response to our application for this new project and thus be able to start the EpiNorth network project in early 2013. All participating regions and countries in the former EpiNorth project will be invited to participate in this new network. The new project will also continue the close cooperation with ECDC.