The NCDC Connect Centre: Implications for National Health Security
In the last five years, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has recorded large outbreaks of epidemic-prone diseases (EPDs) which were subsequently controlled using evidence-based public health measures. Since 1998, the sub-national – national reporting of these diseases has been mainly through the World Health Organisation paper-based Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) strategy for the African region (WHO-AFRO). This strategy, although effective, is however associated with challenges of delayed subnational – national diseases notification thereby affecting timely response to public health threats.
To address the above, there was a need to establish a readily accessible channel (call lines) through which the public can reach the NCDC for real time notification of public health events. In line with this, the NCDC with the support of University of Maryland, Baltimore in 2016 established the NCDC Event Based Surveillance (EBS) unit called the “Connect Centre”. Since then, the World Health Organisation, Public Health England and other development partners have been providing needed support to strengthen this centre thereby contributing to early warning alert and response system (EWARS).
The NCDC Connect Centre has continued to evolve with necessary operational tools and gadgets in place. These are standard operating procedures; national EBS guidelines; templates for daily reporting / logging signals and events; dashboard and monitors, 24/7 internet services, and workflow. It is a centralized structure that combines the use of hotlines, IVR moderated searches through Tatafo and EIOS, email, short message services (SMS), WhatsApp messaging, web assessment, BOT chat, and social media scanning for early detection of potential outbreak known as signal capturing.
At the peak of the first wave of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID)-19) pandemic, the traffic recorded in our call lines was swiftly addressed through the expansion and upgrade of the centre. We are grateful to the World Bank Regional Disease Surveillance System Enhancement (WB REDISSE) programme for providing this support. Following this, through our trained call agents, we were able to respond to large volume of calls, address public concerns and respond to all notifications. Trainings were also conducted for personnel and volunteers of other relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies as well as private telecommunication companies.
Given the critical role of the Connect Centre in strengthening epidemic intelligence, we urge members of the community to continue to utilise the call lines to immediately notify the NCDC of any potential public health threat in your environment. We also urge our states’ colleagues to continue to support their respective call centres to further strengthen national health security.
For notification of EPDs and other public health threats, our trained call agents are readily available 24/7 and can be reached via NCDC hotline 6232.