An updated overview of the Great Lakes Border Health Initiative

Newly emerging diseases, including Ebola, SARS, and Avian Influenza, have underscored the need to ensure that geopolitical and jurisdictional boundaries do not impede infectious disease control and surveillance efforts. Diseases do not respect borders, making effective global collaboration critical in an age of escalating world travel and trade.

Differences in healthcare systems, government structures, cultural nuances and public health priorities all impact the coordination of streamlined international crisis response. And, while many informal communication pathways exist at the local level, official mechanisms are needed for effective state to province partnership in both routine and emergency situations.

History
Originally undertaken as the Michigan-Ontario Border Health Initiative in early 2004, the program expanded in the fall of 2004 to include Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin. From that point onward, the program was known as the Great Lakes Border Health Initiative (GLBHI). In February 2009, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania became the latest regional partners to ratify the necessary agreements in order to allow them to fully participate in all that GLBHI undertakes.

Funding
Originally funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and managed through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Early Warning Infectious Disease Surveillance (EWIDS) project, GLBHI aims to formalize and strengthen relationships between local- and state- and provincial-level public health and emergency preparedness agencies in both the United States and Canada who are responsible for communicable disease tracking, control and response.  Federal funding of EWIDS ended in 2012.

Partners & Committees
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has taken a leadership role with this effort, along with the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). Since EWIDS funding was allocated by number of crossings at land borders each year, these two states received the bulk of the monies, allowing them to dedicate many more resources than the others to the project.

Professionals in the fields of epidemiology, public health laboratories, emergency preparedness, food protection and defense, public health law and infection control teleconference regularly via subcommittee, with representation from local, regional, state/provincial and federal public health levels. Tribal and First Nation stakeholders on both sides of the border have also been invited to the partnership.

Past Projects
Chief among the initiative's past projects:

  • Creation of an expanded summary of GLBHI, for use as a marketing and sharing tool (referred to as the GLBHI Informational Snapshot)
  • Cross-border enrollment on the CDC's Epi-X system and Canada's CNPHI PHA alerting system continues to expand
  • Exploration into development of a possible Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Ontario and the involved states
  • Formalizing and testing protocols for moving laboratory samples across the border
  • Consideration of surge capacity near the border and identification of related issues
  • Key GLBHI documents, the Infectious Disease Emergency Communications Guideline and the Public Health Data Sharing Agreement, along with several reference directories continue to be refined to ensure usability and relevance
  • Reviewing the use of the CDC's newly developed Cascade Alerting System amongst GLBHI partners' Health Alert Networks.

Questions about the Great Lakes Border Health Initiative, and infectious disease information and situation awareness to be shared, may be directed to the GLBHI State and Provincial Leads.