Independent review of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN)

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Status of the review

The final report from the External Review Panel is now available, and offers recommendations to prepare for future health events and improve public health surveillance tools at PHAC.

The 36 recommendations in the final report relate to:

These recommendations will inform the work underway at PHAC to review its processes and identify improvements, and to clarify and streamline the decision-making process for the issuance of GPHIN products, including alerts. The report will also inform work to respond to the GPHIN recommendation from the Auditor General from "Report 8 - Pandemic Preparedness, Surveillance, and Border Control Measures".

Establishment of the review

The Public Health Agency of Canada is committed to scientific excellence and continuously adapting its processes to enable effective responses to emerging public health issues.

In the fall of 2020, the Minister of Health requested an independent review of Canada's global public health surveillance system, the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), to assess how it continues to meet today's public health needs.

Ms. Margaret Bloodworth was selected as the chair of the External Review Panel that conducted this independent review. The other panelists included Dr. Paul Gully and Dr. Mylaine Breton. The External Review Panel was selected based on diverse experience and expertise in relevant fields, including public health, health security and intelligence, and governance.

This review considered:

The terms of reference for the review were determined in consultation with the External Review Panel.

Reports from the External Review Panel

Panel members


GPHIN is an early-warning and situational awareness system for potential chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear public health threats worldwide. This includes monitoring of infectious disease outbreaks.

GPHIN was established in 1997. Since that time, a significant number of non-governmental entities now conduct open source surveillance and alerting along with governmental systems. This global shift to both private and public sector public health surveillance has impacted the role that GPHIN plays in Canada and on the world stage.

GPHIN shares a variety of information products with users about public health issues.

Terms of reference

The following terms of reference for this independent review were finalized with the External Review Panel in November 2020.


Headquartered at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) is an event-based, multilingual, early-warning and situational awareness network for potential chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear public health threats worldwide - including outbreaks of infectious disease. GPHIN has played a key role in the early detection of past international outbreaks, including H1N1, MERS and Ebola.

Since the formation of GPHIN in 1997, global shifts in communications technologies, data gathering and analytics have affected the role that GPHIN plays in Canada and on the world stage. A significant number of non-governmental entities now conduct open-source surveillance and alerting alongside governmental systems, and the speed at which information can be shared around the world is now incredibly fast. Information about the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak was disseminated early and swiftly to public health authorities around the world through multiple mechanisms, including GPHIN.

On August 17, 2020, the Minister of Health requested an independent review of GPHIN, to be conducted by an External Review Panel. This was reported publicly on September 7, 2020. The results of this review will inform future policy decisions around Canada's global public health intelligence system and support GPHIN's ongoing contribution to public health in Canada and around the world.


The Minister of Health has mandated the establishment of an External Review Panel (the "Review Panel") to undertake a time-limited and independent review of GPHIN. The Review Panel is to deliver a final report to the Minister that will be made available to the public.

The activities of the Review Panel will be carried out in accordance with departmental and federal policies and practices for external advisory bodies.

While the objective of the review is to provide advice and recommendations to the Minister of Health, the Minister retains the ultimate responsibility, accountability, and sole authority for any decisions resulting from the advice received from the Review Panel.

Scope and objectives

The review of GPHIN will focus on the following:

In addition, this panel will be made aware of any relevant findings from the surveillance audit being conducted concurrently by the Office of the Auditor General.

External Review Panel

The members of the Review Panel will be appointed by the Minister.

The Minister will establish a diverse panel of professionals and experts from outside of PHAC. Members will be selected based on their experience and their knowledge, with specific expertise sought in the relevant fields of public health, security and intelligence. Biographies of the members will be made publically available online.

The Review Panel will consist of a Chair and a number of panelists.

Secretariat roles and responsibilities

The Review Panel will be supported by a dedicated Secretariat responsible for operational advice, coordination and administration in key areas:

Panel roles and responsibilities

By accepting to serve on the Review Panel, members agree to be bound by the conditions of the Terms of Reference.


The Review Panel will be asked to undertake this review on a part-time basis beginning in November, 2020. The Panel will provide an interim report by February, 2021 and a final report at the Panel's conclusion in the spring of 2021. This work will be supported by the Secretariat.

Panel activities

In order to advance its work, the Panel could undertake a range of activities including:

The members of the Review Panel have a responsibility to give their best advice and fulfill their roles through their integrity, expertise, experience, and openness to the dialogue and deliberation.

The Review Panel will have full independence in formulating practical and implementable advice and recommendations.

With regard to conflicts of interest:

Members will direct any media inquiries to the Secretariat and notify the Secretariat about the inquiry.

The Chair of the Review Panel will have the following additional responsibilities:


The review will commence in November, 2020, and the first meeting of the Review Panel should take place no later than two weeks after the panel has been established.

The review is expected to be conducted over a period of five to six months, subject to input and advice from the Chair of the Review Panel.


Members will be reimbursed for expenses incurred to participate in Panel meetings in accordance with Government of Canada policies, including the Treasury Board's Travel Directive and the Directive on the Management of Expenditures on Travel, Hospitality and Conferences.

Confidentiality and public communications

Review Panel members may discuss or review confidential or sensitive issues and documents, and should note that the confidentiality and privacy policies of the Government of Canada apply. Therefore, the members will require an appropriate security check.

To support their ability to provide well-informed advice, the Review Panel may request and receive confidential information from PHAC and Health Canada. Every member of the panel will commit to keeping this information secure and confidential, and sign a Confidentiality Agreement before participating on the Review Panel.

PHAC will mark information according to the level to which it is protected under the Policy on Government Security.

All information gathered by the Review Panel in the course of its work is subject to the provisions of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Over the course of the review and after its completion, members of the Review Panel are not permitted to divulge confidential information or any materials to a third party without the prior consent of the Government of Canada. Any inquiries from third parties regarding the Review Panel's activities should be referred to the Secretariat. Safeguards related to confidentiality and public communications are not intended to limit the ability of the Review Panel to conduct analysis and make recommendations essential to fulfilling its mandate.

Changes to the terms of reference

The Minister or her delegate may amend these Terms of Reference at any time after consultation with the Panel. Members will be notified of any changes.

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