In 2007, the Rockefeller Foundation and Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) convened infectious disease surveillance representatives and other experts from across the world to share best practices and lessons learned in disease surveillance. Attendees of the meeting, which was held at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Conference Center, Italy, were asked to recommend actions to advance the global capacity for public health surveillance and reduce the threat of infectious diseases, with a focus on the needs of developing countries. The resulting Bellagio Call for Action addressed three “vital concerns”: (i) the need to build surveillance capacity, especially human and laboratory capacity, but also cross-border collaborative capacity; (ii) the need to develop and employ appropriate information and data-sharing technology to facilitate timely communication during times of emergency; and (iii) the need for a flexible approach to governance among the growing number of regional infectious disease surveillance networks that are self-assembling worldwide (14
At the same time, regional disease surveillance networks themselves were recognizing a shared incentive to improve early detection and outbreak investigation and response. Driven by that incentive and with the support and partnership of NTI, the Rockefeller Foundation, Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Fondation Mérieux, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the leaders of six existing regional disease surveillance networks founded CORDS. The six networks, all of which are described in detail elsewhere in this issue (see also ) are: Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance Network (MBDS) (15
), East African Integrated Disease Surveillance Network (EAIDSNet) (16
), South Eastern European Health Network (SEEHN) (17
), Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance (MECIDS) (18
), Asian Partnership on Emerging Infectious Disease Research (APEIR) (19
), and Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS) (20
). During CORDS's early years, NTI served the role of interim secretariat; Fondation Mérieux provided a home in Annecy, France, for convening CORDS. CORDS was formally created as a non-governmental organization in Lyon, France, in 2012.
Connecting Organizations for Regional Disease Surveillance (CORDS) Founding Networks
Representing a network-of-networks approach, CORDS enables networks to interact not only with each other, but also with the WHO, OIE, FAO, and other surveillance partners. CORDS also partners with other public and private sector actors who share common health security goals (6
); and with individual professionals.
CORDS operates as a community of practice: a learning partnership among people who share a common concern, in this case improving infectious disease surveillance capacity, and who come together regularly to learn how to do it better (23
). CORDS networks regularly meet to exchange information and innovations (e.g., new data-sharing tools); participate in training courses and learn through case studies; and jointly build surveillance capacity. By providing a central forum for peers from different parts of the world to share expertise and best practices and, over time, nurture trust, CORDS fosters the development of professional collaborations and provides regular opportunities for joint learning and technical exchanges. CORDS strengthens the dialogue not just among public health, veterinary, and wildlife professionals from different regions of the world, but also between those professionals and WHO, OIE, and FAO.
The vision of CORDS is “a world united against infectious diseases
.” Its mission is “to link regional disease surveillance networks and improve global capacity to respond to infectious diseases
.” CORDS has four strategic objectives:
- Improving Capacity: CORDS facilitates the sharing between networks of case studies, technical expertise, data, best practices, and resources to help networks and their member countries develop new skills and build operational partnerships across regions.
- Advancing One Health: CORDS seeks to modernize disease surveillance by improving coordination between animal, human and environmental sectors at national, regional and international levels.
- Promoting Innovation: CORDS serves as a venue for networks to share their innovative ideas and approaches to disease surveillance, and it also provides an organized platform for co-development of new technologies and innovations within and across regions.
- Building Sustainable Networks: CORDS strengthens multi-country disease surveillance networks and facilitates the creation of sustainable new networks in areas of high disease risk by providing educational materials, success stories, progress reports, and other information to networks which they can use with their respective ministries to demonstrate the value of multi-country networks.
While CORDS is still early in its development, already its member networks have demonstrated that even in parts of the world historically (e.g., Southeast Asia) or currently rife with conflict (e.g., Middle East), public health and veterinary experts and officials from neighboring countries can come together in emergency situations and successfully coordinate efforts to prevent the spread of infectious disease (4
). The key to success is trust. Multi-country disease surveillance networks are successful only when individual experts from across countries and regions develop trust-based relationships that support the comfortable and timely exchange of views and information. For example, MBDS is a network of trust-based social relationships that have developed over time and did not exist thirteen years ago. As the network matured and as disease surveillance and control epidemiologists and other professionals from neighboring countries routinely worked together on joint surveillance goals, the sharing of data, tools, and innovative ideas and approaches increased substantially. CORDS is committed to nurturing a trust-based culture that encourages the secure and timely sharing of information and best practices between disease surveillance experts from across its member networks.
The operational philosophy of CORDS is to be small, nimble, and supportive of member networks. In accord with the trust-based and collaborative culture of CORDS, the CORDS Executive Board operates on consensus when it establishes the objectives, policies, and plans of action for the organization. CORDS rotates leadership such that all involved networks will have the opportunity for one of their representatives to serve as Chair of the Executive Board (EB).