Developing countries eager to strengthen their public health institutes often look to more established agencies for guidance. The desire to improve their international programs prompted Jeffrey P. Koplan MD, MPH, vice president for academic health affairs in Emory University's Woodruff Health Sciences Center, to initiate an organization to address their needs.
In 2002, Dr. Koplan, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), partnered with the Finnish National Public Health Institute (KTL), in Helsinki, to organize the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI). The association's third annual meeting will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on January 29-31. During the conference, the IANPHI will be formally chartered.
The IANPHI, which currently connects 35 national public health agencies, encourages participants to learn from each other's experiences. The member institutions of the IANPHI serve a similar function as the CDC in the United States, Dr. Koplan says. At this year's conference, public health experts and officials from various nations will address topics for which they've had first-hand experience. They include:
-Avian flu (Netherlands, Vietnam)
-The role of the national health institute in disaster relief efforts (Cuba, Pakistan)
-Chronic diseases, such as tobacco related illnesses, obesity, etc. (Russia, China, Finland)
Eventually, Dr. Koplan says, training programs for the directors and staff of the national public health agencies will be held in their home countries and in Atlanta at Emory University.
"The classes will be structured to help them improve performance at their own institutes according to their wishes and priorities, and in the context of their culture and resources," he says. "We also plan to initiate a series of site visits to assess their needs, then offer funding to aid with making the improvements."
Nigeria has already requested a site visit and team members are likely to come from several national public health institutes. The team is likely to learn as much as it will impart. The IANPHI was first initiated with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, but recently received a $902,554 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The support will further the association's mission and provide technical support for disease prevention and control programs, like those for AIDS, malaria, immunizable diseases, and injuries.
Dr. Koplan serves as the principal investigator for the IANPHI grant. The co-investigators are Pekka Puska, MD, PhD, director general of KTL and Pekka Jousilahti, MD, PhD, research professor with KTL.