School of Population Health

Prevention and Public Health Surveillance (PHCM2005)


Disease surveillance and population health monitoring represents one of the most important tools for public health, for early disease detection and prevention, and the monitoring and evaluation. Early detection of and rapid response to a public health threat has huge potential to save lives and costs from preventing hospitalizations and deaths. This course provides an overview of different types of surveillance systems and the sources of data that are used in such systems. Students learn to assess challenges and limitations associated with different types of public health surveillance systems and develop the skills to examine the tools and approaches that can be used to improve the effectiveness of public health surveillance systems. The course looks at principles of disease prevention more broadly.  Public health prevention measures are discussed including immunisation and screening, using case studies for both communicable and non-communicable diseases. The role of epidemiological and social factors is also considered.

Credit points

This is a core course in the Bachelor of International Public Health (3880) comprising 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study program.

Mode of study

This course is offered in two modes: either face to face (on campus) and fully online.


There are no academic pre-requisite requirements for this course, however, a sound understanding of the principles and practice of public health epidemiology are assumed. As such, it is advised that PHCM2001 Epidemiology be completed before taking this course.

Course aim

This course introduces you to prevention and public health surveillance principles and methods. The aims of the course are to build your:

  • appreciation of the role surveillance plays in public health practice;
  • understanding of the components of a public health surveillance system; and
  • ability to assess the function of a surveillance system used for different purposes.
Course learning outcomes

On completion of this course, you will have the knowledge and skills to:

  • articulate why public health authorities conduct surveillance;
  • identify the main types of surveillance and their uses;
  • describe how to design a surveillance system and how surveillance data are used;
  • formulate a plan to evaluate a surveillance system; and
  • describe the use of surveillance in unique contexts, such as in a developing country setting.
Learning and teaching rationale

This course has been designed to support students’ build fundamental knowledge required to engage effectively in public health surveillance practice. 


Assessment for this course consist of three multiple-choice quizzes and two assignments (one individual assignment and the other a group assignment). The quizzes tend to assess understanding of the content taught while the assignments assess ability to apply the concepts to real-world problems.

Assessment Task 1 - Individual Assignment: Essay
Length: 1500 words
Weighting: 35%

Assessment Task 2 - Group Assignment: Audio-visual presentation
Length: 10 to 15-minute recorded video, and 1-page personal reflection and declaration of contribution
Weighting: 35%

Assessment Task 3 - Quizzes 1-3
Length: 10 MCQs
Weighting: 30%

Readings and resources

The required textbook for this course is: Lee LM, Teutsch SM, Thacker SB, St Louis ME. Principles and Practice of Public Health Surveillance (3rd Ed.) Oxford University Press Ltd, New York, 2010.

This textbook is available from the UNSW bookshop, online bookshops or in electronic format from the UNSW library.