Yvan Souarès

PPHSN – a model for a faraway ocean!

On 9 and 10 October 2006, a ‘Workshop for strengthening epidemiological surveillance, early warning systems and response in Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) member states’ was held in Mauritius. The World Health Organization had hired me as a temporary expert to facilitate workshop sessions and present the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN) model. This year marks the network’s 10th anniversary. How time flies!

My presentation was to be one of the keynote addresses at the workshop, and it was. It was an example of success, a model to inspire and one of mutual trust and respect enhancing effectiveness in health. The Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion Island and the Seychelles, plus all the IOC partners, were impressed and enthused by the description of the original model, what it developed into and its performance 10 years on. It was nothing to do with me, but PPHSN itself left a lasting impression. On 30 October this year, the ministers of health of the five countries concerned, including France, adopted a proposed epidemic surveillance and response network to be managed by IOC – remembering the model from a faraway ocean, blown in on the trade winds like a canoe emerging from a 10-year dream, skimming over the ocean waves.

On 29 and 30 November in Paris, in the impressive setting of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (City of Science and Industry), the “Journées de veille sanitaire” (‘Health Surveillance Days’) – the annual scientific showcase for the National Institut de veille sanitaire (National Health Surveillance Institute) – were held. The organisers had asked me to speak at the plenary opening session on ‘The place of the French overseas world in regional health surveillance activities’. After being nourished by the Pacific and the Caribbean and, more recently, the Indian Ocean, I endeavoured to express my opinion on the matter. I said that among the essential determinants, the organisational structure for regional health surveillance has a major influence on the place that the French overseas world can have in any such system. Events and context naturally play their part and, compared to the situation of the French overseas departments of Antilles-Guiana and those in the Indian Ocean, the role of PPHSN became obvious in the enviable place held by New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna in a genuine regional epidemiological surveillance network. Here again, it was nothing to do with me. PPHSN was the star.

Ten years this year and, four years after my departure from New Caledonia, these two ‘coincidences’ thrust me straight back, with no warning, into Pacific Time: on this opposite side of the world we would call it chance. For me, it was a wonderful dream. Everything is possible in dreams: I learnt it from you in the Pacific Islands. To say that I am proud would be a cliché. I was made strong by it and that is the difference.

Today in Marseille, again sustained by the Mediterranean, I am working on the introduction of an occupational illness surveillance network in the Provence–Alpes–Côte d’Azur region. It is a new approach and the work is not easy. I am making steady progress, in the conviction that I can rely on my canoe and my roots. I think about you every day and also those who helped us and then moved on. I am a son of PPHSN overseas. That’s what makes me feel safe.

Sincerely yours and I hope to see you soon. Such is my dream.

Yvan Souarès