CDC’s Surveillance Partnerships: Disease Detectives Across the Globe

At this very moment, disease outbreaks are happening all over the world, such as the outbreaks of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) in China, Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and measles worldwide. How do public health agencies detect and track these new threats quickly and efficiently—even in low-resource countries?

Responding to outbreaks requires more than vaccines and medical supplies. Affected countries also need workers with public health knowledge and analytic skills. Working with international partners, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) helps countries develop public health infrastructure, including surveillance, laboratory and diagnostic testing, emergency operations centers, and workforce to prevent epidemics from spreading or even starting in the first place.

In 2007, the CDC created the Global Disease Detection Operations Center (GDDOC) to serve as the agency’s hub for detecting and monitoring global public health events of international importance. After more than a decade of international disease detective work, the GDDOC is part of the Global Health Security Agenda’s efforts to better prevent, detect, and respond to disease threats and make the world safer and more secure by helping countries enhance their ability to respond to such threats.

Surveillance: The First Clues in Disease Detective Work

By monitoring events across the globe, experts can detect public health risks as early as possible anywhere in the world. This type of monitoring is called event-based surveillance. Event-based surveillance quickly captures information from a variety of sources about unusual or unexpected health events. In addition to monitoring events, epidemiologists, or disease detectives, measure how many illnesses and deaths are caused by an infectious disease outbreak or other public health event. This is called indicator-based surveillance, which provides vital information to help public health officials design programs to control the outbreak. Together, event-based surveillance and incident-based surveillance support the Early Warning Alert and Response System, a surveillance system developed to help detect diseases that are most likely to spread. All the pieces of data from event-based surveillance and incident-based surveillance create a trail of clues that disease detectives follow in partnership with the World Health Organization.

Epidemic Intelligence: Disease Detectives Hot on the Trail

In partnership with the CDC Foundation and Resolve to Save Lives, CDC’s GDDOC provides technical assistance directly to four partner countries in Africa: Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition to providing trainings for event-based surveillance, members of GDDOC help assess how these partner countries detect diseases, collect data on emerging outbreaks and process public health information. After an in-country assessment, GDDOC works with the partner country to develop and carry out best practices to collect, analyze, and communicate public health information with the objective of early warning. This is known as epidemic intelligence. By sharing knowledge and helping countries enhance their public health systems, international partnerships like these make it possible to detect, track and prevent diseases worldwide.

Progress to Date: Event-Based Surveillance in Action

In July 2019, GDDOC and its partners launched a project with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to assess how event-based surveillance works to detect emerging threats in Nigeria and across the West African region. CDC’s epidemiologists worked closely with Nigeria’s event-based surveillance analysts to define goals that will strengthen Nigeria’s epidemic intelligence program. In October 2019, GDDOC staff returned to Nigeria to launch on-the-ground support, which included an intensive event-based surveillance training workshop that introduced a new system to detect signs of potential health threats and updated NCDC’s event-based surveillance standard practices. GDDOC also supplied frameworks, templates and other resources to fully position NCDC for success. While project activities are still in their early phases, GDDOC and partners look forward to continuing this productive collaboration. Overall, GDDOC strives to build an international network of event-based surveillance institutions, all committed to enhancing global epidemic intelligence, one partnership at a time.


For additional information about this project, please contact Melissa Bennett at

Christie Hercik, PhD, is an epidemiologist and CDC Foundation field employee to the U.S. CDC Global Disease Detection Operations Center.