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CORDS – Creating the eyes and ears of global public health surveillance


What does CORDS stand for?

CORDS stands for ‘Connecting Organizations for Regional Disease Surveillance’.

The organization was established as an ‘Association’ in Lyon, east-central France in 2012. It has a small headquarters and will have four members of staff.

Professor Nigel Lightfoot was appointed as Executive Director designate of CORDS in April 2012 and took up his appointment on 1 September 2012. Here he answers some questions about the work he is doing.

What does CORDS do?

“CORDS is a unique international not-for-profit partnership. It was first set up in 2009 to provide a framework for networks between countries around the world to improve their capacity to detect, identify and respond to the threat of diseases within countries and across borders, to establish exchange of information between networks and to stimulate a culture of early communication about potential events.”

“The international community has recognized the crucial need to be able to identify and respond rapidly to disease outbreaks –

– In this, the age of global air travel, viruses like SARS and the influenza A (H1N1) 2009 pandemic virus can be given a free ride anywhere in the world and have the potential to have a rapid and devastating impact on people, industries and economies.”

What is the aim of CORDS?

“The aim of CORDS is to promote the exchange of information among different disease surveillance networks around the world and to share best practices, surveillance tools, strategies, training courses, innovations, successful operating procedures, case studies and other technical data.”

Who is in CORDS?

“As at January 2013 CORDS has six founding members – with plans to expand. The founding members are:


CORDS is also welcomed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Animal Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.”


CORDS in the developing world


“In developing countries a lot of the surveillance infrastructure required for the early detection and identification of diseases is simply missing. Even in the developed world public health surveillance systems are quite compartmentalized.


CORDS believes the key to limiting – or perhaps even preventing – the next pandemic is the early suspicion about – or recognition of – any new emerging disease, whether it be flu or something else, with the potential to become a pandemic.”


CORDS and communication


“There’s a willingness to develop capacity in the developing countries and, with the in-country training that CORDS will provide under the global One Health initiative, health practitioners and veterinarians will be able to work and communicate their thoughts and findings on potential emerging public health threats internationally via the CORDS website.”


CORDS online


“The development of the CORDS website aims to facilitate and promote a culture of collaboration and communication. The website will have three key elements:


1. A public facing element to provide information via the Internet

2. A knowledge management element to provide a virtual library of best practices and information for CORDS networks and other networks

3. A web portal or ‘chat room’ for health practitioners and veterinarians in countries around the world to promote the early discussion of unusual cases


Working in this way CORDS will be ‘on the ground’ and close to the emerging action, complementing the work done by the WHO, OIE and FAO.


And finally, CORDS will provide daily news alerts on potential public health threats to all its members.”


CORDS and collaboration – a recent example


“The work that CORDS will do will be about collaboration on all levels and between countries across the globe. One recent example of this is the discovery of a novel coronavirus (which, of course, has the potential to become a pandemic but which does not appear to transmit readily between humans at the present time).


Since June 2012 we have seen nine cases of novel coronavirus infection, including a possible cluster, which was associated with the emergency department of a hospital in Jordan.


The recognition that something was ‘not right’ when the cases of illness in Jordan first appeared in the news streams that we scan over at NL Intelligence was immediate. Something didn’t ring true. I spoke to the Jordanians and advised them to get the patient samples tested outside the country after the tests conducted in Jordan had found nothing unusual.


The samples were taken to Egypt and tested again and, again, nothing was found. But when the novel coronavirus appeared again later in the year and was identified, the Jordanian samples were tested again and three cases of infection were found.


And it’s this suspicion, this recognition that something is out of the ordinary and doesn’t quite ‘fit’, combined with the knowledge of what to do about it when it happens that is the key.


It’s the early suspicion and early discussion amongst peers that something is not quite right that is so vital in successful early detection.”


CORDS and surveillance


“CORDS will be implementing innovative surveillance solutions such as using mobile phone technology to report field test results to a central surveillance database within the network.

It will promote the joining up of networks to enable the sharing of cutting-edge technology such as molecular identification and fingerprinting of pathogens.”


A new phase begins…


“Although CORDS has been developing under the stewardship of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and The Rockefeller Foundation since 2009, a new phase for the organization begins now.


CORDS was created as a legal entity in France in 2012 and will officially be launched at the Prince Mahidol Awards Conference in Bangkok, Thailand at the end of January 2013.


CORDS is in receipt of funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Skoll Global Threats Fund.”


Moving forwards


Professor Lightfoot already has plans to carry out a mapping of all networks and stakeholders globally to provide a future context for the development of CORDS and, importantly, has planned a network workshop at Les Pensières – the Fondation Mérieux conference centre in Annecy, France – in April 2013.


At this workshop he will galvanize ‘the excellent work already achieved’ by the founding networks of CORDS into a mission to ‘create the eyes and ears of the WHO, OIE and FAO’..

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