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An epidemic intelligence service, to combat outbreaks of illness before they spread, is much needed
Now in its second year of training, India's so-called epidemic intelligence service (EIS), run by the National Centre for Disease Control, frames a welcome effort to equip public health professionals to be the bulwark of the country's defence system against communicable diseases. Modelled on a US programme of the same name, and a result of the collaboration with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, the EIS will comprise medical professionals trained in the science of tracking down outbreaks of illness as they occur, so as to stop them before they spread, across states.
In the US, where the EIS originated in 1951 as an early warning system against a covert biological attack, the service has successfully battled polio, cholera, the ebola virus and smallpox, to name just a few. For India, where, according to 2008 data, an estimated 21 per cent of deaths were caused by infectious and parasitic diseases, the fight against communicable disease forms an essential component of the public health challenge. As the annual rash of reports about recurrent Japanese Encephalitis or Acute Encephalitis Syndrome shows, the current system is inadequate to both detect the origins and prevent outbreaks of such diseases.