The five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) have a long tradition of collaboration in communicable disease epidemiology and control. The state epidemiologists and the immunisation programme managers have met regularly to discuss common challenges and exchange experiences in surveillance and control of communicable diseases. After the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) regained independence in 1991 and the Soviet Union dissolved, contacts were made across the old iron curtain in several areas, such as culture, education, business, military and medicine. Each of the Nordic communicable disease surveillance institutes started projects with partners in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or the Russian Federation. The projects were in such diverse areas as HIV surveillance and prevention, vaccination programmes and antibiotic resistance.
Computer conferencing using the Canadian system CoSy is presented, and three related projects are discussed. 1. An extramural university course in epidemiology and medical statistics was taught using CoSy. Computer conferencing can be a useful vehicle for distance education, enabling health professionals to attend "classes" independent of geographical and time constraints. The subjects taught are well suited to this medium. 2. Internet was used to establish a small network of public health researchers and teachers. Participants are from Canada, Hungary, Israel, Norway, and Australia. Networks of this type not only facilitate international collaboration within public health, they also enable international collaborative research and teaching projects that would have been too cumbersome and time consuming to initiate and conduct without this communication facility. 3. "Development of Medical Education for a New Public Health in Hungary," a project funded by the European Community's TEMPUS program, is established with a view to developing the undergraduate and graduate education of public health professionals. It is a joint program between the five Hungarian medical schools and ten universities in the G24 countries. The TEMPUS listserver functions as an important vehicle for communication within this project.
This first in a series of columns regarding distance education identifies existing offerings and introduces conceptual issues. Continuing professional education can be achieved through a variety of means, but university-based distance education degree programs offer particularly valuable attributes. Although a growing number of universities are offering such programs, few pertain specifically to infection control, hospital epidemiology, and health-service quality improvement. This first installment concludes by asking whether the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America should be partnering or otherwise collaborating with universities to maintain its leadership position in bringing high-quality educational opportunities to infection control practitioners and healthcare epidemiologists.