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Understanding the functional components of public health surveillance
  1. B C K Choi1,
  2. M Ackland2
  1. 1Population and Public Health Branch, Health Canada, AL no 6701A, 120 Colonnade Road, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1B4, Canada; Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto; Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa, Canada
  2. 2Health Surveillance and Evaluation Section, Rural and Regional Health and Aged Care Services Division, Victorian Department of Human Services, Melbourne, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr B C K Choi;

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Developing a public health surveillance system is similar to developing a housing estate. Besides the actual building process (setting up infrastructure for data collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination) there are many other requirements to be identified in planning—and care must be taken to ensure products will stand up to the test of time.

The first step is to identify “wants” of homebuyers (recognise and integrate all the “needs” of various stakeholders in a manner that will lead to quality, efficient outcomes). Consultation with government agencies, town planners, and homeowners (relevant authorities and community groups) will ensure planning processes are appropriate to the “authorising environment”.

It is then necessary to enlist architects (epidemiologists and public health professionals) who will conceptualise the project and describe scenarios in the form of drawings and models (show the relevance to information needs and applications to public health policy). Architects will also scope engineering, structural and costing issues and other aspects of the design that will be attractive to the client.

The stakeholder can now make serious decisions about implementation—choice of builder (data collection contractors), preferred building specifications (data collection methodology), and submission of a planning permit (data quality control plan).

A visit to an accountant and banker is now important to ensure the project is economically viable (budget plan).

Processes such as these are all necessary to ensure surveillance systems are sustainable and that core data elements remain stable over time. As buildings must be resistant to harsh environmental conditions, surveillance systems must also be resistant to changes in the political or bureaucratic environment.

Bringing in builders and technical teams is now easy—but architectural supervision will be required throughout. Use will be made of fast turnaround, automated building machinery (software) and pre-fabrication where appropriate to ensure efficient construction and fit-out of buildings (analysis and reporting).

Following a successful building project, a sales office is needed to attract homebuyers. Again, this process will be made easier if early consultation and planning has been thorough. Surveillance systems (like buildings) also require marketing. Information must continually be communicated to stakeholders in the most appropriate way.

The key message here is that architects (epidemiologists) must engage with all stakeholders to ensure their needs are met (product relevance and application) and that the quality of life of the new residents (public health outcomes) will be improved through construction of the new housing estate (health surveillance).

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