Nearly 90 national public health institute (NPHI) directors, country observers and partners attended the third annual meeting of the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI) in Bilthoven, Netherlands this week.
Established in 2006, IANPHI was the first organizational effort to link NPHIs globally and to strengthen existing public health institutes and help create new ones. IANPHI's mission is to transform public health systems for improved global health.
Many countries, mostly in higher-resource regions, already have NPHIs, such as the U.S. CDC, China CDC, National Public Health Institute of Finland, Chile's Instituto de Salud Publica and South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases. But in low-resource countries, public health systems bear the burden of limited funding, human resources and physical infrastructure while at the same time combating endemic diseases such as AIDS, malaria, TB and diarrheal disease as well as emerging threats.
A proven way for countries to carry out core public health functions is by consolidating and organizing public health expertise and infrastructure within an NPHI, says Jeffrey Koplan, MD, MPH, Emory University vice president for global health, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and IANPHI president.
"Strong and well-supported NPHIs increase a country's ability to mount an decisive and coordinated response to a public health emergency, increase the quality and quantity of the public health workforce and provide visible national leadership," says Koplan.
In 2006 Emory University, in partnership with Finland's National Public Health Institute (KTL) received a $20 million, five-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support IANPHI.
Since its founding, IANPHI has increased its membership from less than 40 to more than 60 institutes and gained international recognition as a leader in developing public health infrastructure. It has successfully undertaken more than 20 projects funded in 18 countries.
Major themes of the meeting were the need to foster regional and international links between public health partners through closer communication and the benefits of sharing of expertise and forging regional collaborations.
A new IANPHI Partnership Initiative focuses on linking resources and expertise to build partnerships throughout the association. For example, KTL is providing technical assistance for the development of a chronic disease surveillance project in Tanzania, Mexico’s INSP is providing in-kind technical assistance to help establish the Mesoamerican Public Health Institute in Central America, and Fiocruz, the Brazil public health institute, has provided in-kind strategic planning assistance for projects in Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Argentina.
"The future of our organization depends on our ability to work together to support our projects," said Koplan in addressing the meeting. "I call upon all of you to consider what you can offer to ensure that we meet our shared mission – the IANPHI mission -- of developing sustainable NPHIs around the world."
IANPHI is helping to establish new NPHIs or significantly increase long-term capacity in Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Macedonia. In Central America it is working collaboratively to create a Mesoamerican Public Health Institute. New long-term projects are being explored for Burkina Faso, Cambodia and Tanzania.
Medium-term capacity-building projects underway in Serbia, Colombia, Tanzania, Thailand and Nigeria focus on chronic diseases and laboratory capacity and standards. And short-term projects have been funded in Turkey, Thailand, Ethiopia, Argentina, Iran, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Uganda.
"We are grateful to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their support of IANPHI," said Koplan, "but we recognize that this support is dependent upon IANPHI bringing in its own resources this year and in the future. I call upon all of you to consider what you can offer to ensure that we meet our shared mission of developing sustainable NPHIs around the world."