Agencies in the USA have proposed creating a "Nationwide Health Tracking Network" to provide our communities, scientists, doctors, hospitals and public health officials with the missing data on where chronic diseases are occurring and whom they are striking. This basic, but yet critical, information would enable us to develop effective prevention strategies to protect the health of our citizens. The proposed network consists of five components:< (1) [Coordinating essential data collection systems]: The first component builds on existing health and environmental data collection systems and establishes data collection systems where they do not exist. The network would coordinate with the local, state and federal health agencies to collect this critical data. In all fifty states of the USA, the network would track: asthma and other respiratory diseases; developmental diseases such as autism, cerebral palsy, and mental retardation; neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's syndrome; birth defects; and cancers, especially in children. The network also would track exposures to: Heavy metals such as mercury and lead; pesticides such as organophosphates and carbamates; air contaminants such as toluene and carbamates; organic compounds such as PCB's and dioxins; and drinking water contaminants, including pathogens.
(2) [Developing an early warning system]: that would immediately alert communities to health emergencies such as lead, pesticide and mercury poisonings. The existing system of local health officials, hospitals and poison centers that alert communities to outbreaks like food illness and the West Nile virus would also warn about these health emergencies.
(3) [Creating Rapid Response Teams]: improving response time to identified disease clusters and other health emergencies. The network would coordinate federal, state and local health officials into rapid response teams to quickly investigate these health emergencies, providing the teams with the trained personnel and necessary equipment.
(4) [Addressing unique local health problems]: a pilot programme consisting of twenty regional programmes that would investigate local disease clusters and emergencies outside of the network. These programs would alert the public and health officials to new developing disease clusters. These pilots programs also would serve as possible tracking models to be included in the network.
(5) [Creating community and academic partnerships]: this component creates relationships between communities and regional academic centers. Community relationships would ensure that the tracking data is accessible and useful on a local level. The academic partners would assist with training the workforce, analysing data, and developing links between the tracking results and preventative measures.