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Eurosurveillance, Volume 6, Issue 3, 01 March 2001
Seventeen years of intervention epidemiology training at Veyrier-du-Lac, 1984-2000

Citation style for this article: Malfait P, Helynck B. Seventeen years of intervention epidemiology training at Veyrier-du-Lac, 1984-2000. Euro Surveill. 2001;6(3):pii=217. Available online:
P. Malfait, B. Helynck
Institut de Veille Sanitaire, Saint-Maurice, France

Early in the 1980s, those involved in public health held symposiums to assess the training of epidemiologists in France showed inadequacies in the teaching of field epidemiology. Hitherto epidemiology in France had been largely confined to research. Evolution of public health practice, with an increasing demand to base decisions on epidemiological data, made it necessary to develop a network of intervention epidemiologists trained to work with standardised methods.

In September 1984, on the initiative of Professor Louis Massé from the Ecole Nationale de Santé Publique (ENSP, the National School of Public Health), Dr Charles Mérieux, president of the Mérieux Foundation, and Dr Michael Gregg, from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, USA, an intervention epidemiology course was organised in Talloires on the shores of the Annecy lake, Haute-Savoie, France. This three week residential course was comparable to the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) summer course run by CDC. Most of the trainees who attended this course were from local departments of the French Ministry of Health, from the National Institute for Health and Medical Research, and from universities. The course emphasised the importance of field epidemiology in the public health process, and the need to set up the necessary means to develop this practice in France. At the end of this first course, an alumni association (Epiter) was created to build up a network of professionals eager to share experiences and promote field epidemiology.

Since 1985, the course has taken place each year at the Centre des Pensières of the Mérieux Foundation (the WHO collaborating centre for the training of human resources) in Veyrier-du-Lac, Haute-Savoie, France. The courses are organised and managed by the Institut pour le Développement de l’Epidémiologie Appliquée (IDEA, Institute for the Development of Applied Epidemiology). To date, 740 public health professionals (including physicians, chemists, veterinaries, public health engineers, nurses) working in public or private facilities in different continents have attended this course. The initial teachers have been succeeded by former trainees, and the coordination of the course is now shared between the Institut de Veille Sanitaire (InVS, formerly the Réseau National de Santé Publique) and the ENSP.

The teaching methods resemble those of the EIS course: lectures, case studies based on real life experiences, the completion of a field survey from the definition of the study objectives to the analysis and presentation of the results. Case studies have been adapted to the French context over time, but teaching methods have changed little. Practical exercises on oral and written communication have been included in the teaching curriculum.

Within 17 years, this course has fulfilled its initial objectives, mainly the development of a network of field epidemiologists, supported by Epiter, with ramifications in many French speaking countries. Two courses similar in structure, content, and objectives have been created – in 1994 in Quebec, Canada, and in 1997 in Dakar for French speaking African countries with the same purpose to develop intervention epidemiology in these countries or regions. The French course also contributed to the creation in 1995 of the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET).

In recent years, the French public health scene has changed, with public health surveillance and safety having been reinforced by a structure of different health agencies. The InVS focuses on surveillance of the population’s health and on generating alerts in the event of threats to public health. It relies on a network of partners, who (individually and in their organisation) require skills in intervention epidemiology. The InVS has acquired know-how and a statutory role in investigation, surveillance, and health risk assessment. It is in a position to share its knowledge within a national training programme akin to EIS or EPIET. The intervention epidemiology training courses held at Veyrier-du-Lac, innovative in 1984, should now evolve and take part in this new expansion by being the starting point of a more in-depth training.

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