The EpiCore Project: Using innovative surveillance methods to verify outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases

      Background: Over the past two decades, initial disease outbreak reports were increasingly based on nontraditional sources such as news media, online search queries, social media and participatory systems. Strategically tapping into these resources can help speed up detection, reporting and responses to new outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases allowing earlier interventions.
      The EpiCore Project – a joint venture between the Skoll Global Threats Fund, HealthMap, ProMED-mail, and TEPHINET – seeks to maximize the advantage of these nontraditional sources by creating a system for field-based verification of reports from these sources. This system creates a cadre of trained health professionals from around the world and leverages their expertise to verify reports they receive in their geographic proximity through innovative surveillance approaches.
      Methods & Materials: The EpiCore project developed a specialized expert-led training that aims to highlight current disease surveillance challenges, demonstrate innovative surveillance methods, explain their role in complementing traditional surveillance, introduce different online sources for outbreak surveillance, and allow the participants to assess challenges in current innovative surveillance approaches before introducing the unique online platform specifically developed by the EpiCore project to connect health professionals to verify outbreak reports.
      The EpiCore Project provided the training in two formats, online – for accepted applicants to the project, and in-person, which was conducted at 6 TEPHINET Conferences, including the Global Conference and the regional conferences in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America over the past two years.
      Results: 174 people attended a series of TEPHINET regional workshops and provided feedback through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. This feedback helped mold a specialized online training that was necessary to reach global audiences, and further understand the mechanism by which to recruit and engage participants worldwide. Since the launch in October of 2015, 80% accepted applicants successfully finished the online training and were granted privileges to access the EpiCore platform where they could start receiving and responding to requests for verification of disease outbreaks.
      Conclusion: The EpiCore project's training and online platform are developing a cadre of trained health professionals to verify reports of potential outbreaks from nontraditional sources, complementing traditional surveillance, and contributing to finding outbreaks faster.