Last (2007) defines surveillance as the “systematic, ongoing collection, collation, and analysis of health-related information that is communicated in a timely manner to all who need to know which health problems require action in their community1.” Surveillance must be used to take action, that is, only minimum information is reported in a timely manner.
The type of information reported depends on the jurisdiction and the disease. It always includes disease status (name of disease, whether it is confirmed) and often contains information about the individual. It can range from a simple count (total number) of cases to a detailed report about the individual (disease status, background/situation, location).
Surveillance information is used primarily to make decisions about preventing and controlling diseases.
Reporting Requirements in Canada
In Canada, the reporting of notifiable diseases is required by provincial/territorial law and the list of notifiable diseases varies by jurisdiction. Generally, there are three instruments/tools that outline reporting requirements in a particular jurisdiction:
- Legislation: Most provinces/territories have a Public Health Act (or equivalent) that outlines how reporting of notifiable diseases must take place. This includes information on who must report (most often public health practitioners and laboratories) and to whom reports must be made (most often, the provincial/territorial chief public health doctor or the ministry of health). Legislation also outlines conditions under which reports must be made and penalties for not reporting.
- Regulations: Regulations accompany legislation and provide the details about how legislation gets enacted. In many cases, the list of notifiable diseases is provided in a regulation.
- Communicable Disease Manuals: Communicable disease protocol manuals are the “how-to” of preventing and controlling diseases. They are developed by provinces/territories and health regions to guide the work of public health practitioners. Most communicable disease manuals include case definitions for notifiable diseases.
All provinces/territories require that, at a minimum, diseases identified in the Public Health Act are reported to the province/territory. However, in addition to this mandatory reporting, some voluntary reporting also takes place.
For example, Canadian provinces and territories, for most diseases, report surveillance information to the Public Health Agency of Canada annually via a voluntary agreement that has been in place since 1924.
Canada has an obligation under International Health Regulations to report any “event that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern2.” In Canada, this includes: anthrax, botulism, cholera, influenza (new sub-type), invasive meningococcal disease, pneumonic plague, poliomyelitis, SARS, smallpox, tularemia, viral hemorrhagic fevers, and yellow fever3. Reports of these diseases are made to the National Focal Point, who then forwards the information to the World Health Organization within 24 hours.
- Last, John M. (2007). A Dictionary of Public Health. Oxford University Press: New York.
- World Health Organization (2005). Notification and other reporting requirements under the IHR (2005): IHR Brief No. 2. Accessed June 2012: http://www.who.int/ihr/ihr_brief_no_2_en.pdf
- Public Health Agency of Canada (2006). Final report and recommendations from the National Notifiable Diseases Working Group. Accessed June 2012: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/06vol32/dr3219a-eng.php