Disease Surveillance System 

  • IASbaba
  • September 25, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Disease Surveillance System

Context: John Snow is often referred to as the father of modern epidemiology and William Farr as founder of the modern concept of disease surveillance system. 

Both had worked extensively to control Cholera outbreak in London during 1850s.

  • Epidemiology is the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health.

Surveillance in India

  • A major cholera outbreak in Delhi in 1988 and the Surat plague outbreak of 1994, pushed the Government of India to launch the National Surveillance Programme for Communicable Diseases in 1997. 
  • In 2004, India launched the Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP).
  • The focus under the IDSP was to increase government funding for disease surveillance, strengthen laboratory capacity, train the health workforce and have at least one trained epidemiologist in every district of India.


  • The disease surveillance system and health data recording and reporting systems are key tools in epidemiology; however, these have performed variably in Indian States
  • As per data from the fourth round of sero-survey, Kerala could identify one in every six infections.
  • While in States such as MP, UP & Bihar, only one in every 100 COVID-19 infections could be detected, pointing towards a weak disease surveillance system
  • Due to weak surveillance system, viral illnesses, most likely dengue, are causing hospitalisation but not being correctly identified.
  • 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has failed to fulfil the promises of strengthening disease surveillance and health systems.

Way Ahead 

  • First, the government resources allocated to disease surveillance need to be increased by the Union and State governments. 
  • Second, the workforce in the primary health-care system in both rural and urban areas needs to be retrained in disease surveillance and public health actions The vacancies of surveillance staff at all levels need to be urgently filled in
  • Third, the laboratory capacity for COVID-19, developed in the last 18 months, needs to be planned and repurposed to increase the ability to conduct testing for other public health challenges and infections. 
  • Fourth, the emerging outbreaks of zoonotic diseases are a reminder of the interconnectedness of human and animal health. The ‘One Health’ approach has to be promoted and made functional on the ground
  • Fifth, there has to be a dedicated focus on strengthening the civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems and medical certification of cause of deaths (MCCD) because these are complementary to disease surveillance systems.
  • Sixth, it is also time to ensure coordinated actions between the State government and municipal corporation to develop joint action plans and assume responsibility for public health and disease surveillance.


We cannot prevent every single outbreak but with a well-functioning disease surveillance system and with application of principles of epidemiology, we can reduce their impact.

Connecting the dots:

  • Biological Threats & Diseases Surveillance System
  • Nuclear Proliferation & Surveillance System

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