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Robert Koch Institute 2025 (RKI 2025)

Promoting research and evidence, sharing knowledge, protecting and improving health

Robert Koch Institute - Seestr. 10 - Berlin Source: RKI

1. Our mission: to protect and improve the public’s health

The Robert Koch Institute is the German national public health institute and one of the world-leading agencies of its kind. We not only protect the public from current health risks, but also prepare for future challenges. Our work is based on excellent, evidence-based science. The RKI achieves its mission through:

  • Monitoring, surveillance and prediction of health risks by collecting, analyzing and processing reliable data and information
  • Research on the causes, extent and mitigation or reduction of the burden of disease
  • Advising the German government, key stakeholders in the health care sector and the scientific community
  • Emergency preparedness and response to disease outbreaks and bioterrorism through national coordination and international networks

To this end, the RKI will continue to develop and maintain the necessary scientific competencies to respond appropriately to health threats and to recognize and mitigate newly emerging risks.

2. Future challenges

As the national public health institute, the RKI plays an important role for health protection in Germany. However, many of the challenges facing public health continue to grow, both nationally and internationally. This is due to:

  • Aging and increasingly diverse societies whose health status is changing over time
  • A globalized world in which cross-border mobility, migration and trade with food products and animals is accelerating, thereby increasing the speed with which infectious diseases can spread
  • New health threats, for example bioterrorism or newly (re-)emerging pathogens
  • Increasing resistance to antimicrobial drugs and resulting difficulties in treating and preventing infectious diseases
  • Technological innovation, which requires permanent adaptation and evolution of scientific methods and protocols
  • The effect of social determinants, such as income and education, on the health status of the population
  • A lack of qualified and well-trained junior scientists in public health and global health that can drive the research agenda and further develop these fields in Germany

These and other challenges will impact the RKI’s work in the future. In order to tackle them successfully, the institute will have to adapt its structure and develop new methods and competencies. This also includes the development of sustainable networks and partnerships with other research institutes and professional societies.

3. Goals for 2025

Summary

The RKI’s recommendations are based on scientific evidence – this not only increases the credibility of the institute’s work but is also a precondition for fulfilling its role as scientific advisor to the federal government and key stakeholders in the German health care sector. To maintain these high standards, the RKI will strategically develop its skills and competencies: new methods and data sources will enable the institute to arrive at conclusions even faster and more precisely than today. By 2025, the RKI will advance and develop its capacities in the area of digital epidemiology. Digital epidemiology refers to the analysis of large sets of both structured and unstructured data in near real-time in order to assess the health status of the population and recognize changes over time. To this end, the RKI will invest in the necessary IT infrastructure and recruit new employees to build up the required technical and methodological competencies in house.

In order to better convey its recommendations and the results of its research to target audiences, RKI will also expand its external communication capacities. Only if appropriate target groups can be reached quickly and effectively can the institute’s recommendations make a difference. Anyone who requires information from the RKI should be able to access and understand it quickly. A target group-specific knowledge transfer should not only explore new communication channels but also incorporate appropriate methods. In the future, the RKI will therefore build its communication strategy on the latest methods in communication theory and behavioral psychology.

Insights and knowledge gained from studies and work conducted at RKI must be available and usable for all researchers at the institute as well as the institute’s partners. Conversely, the RKI also depends on knowledge and data from other research institutes and organizations in the health care sector. Unlocking the institute’s full potential and using research results as effectively as possible will require improvements to internal and external networks, both nationally and internationally and across academic disciplines. Only if the institute succeeds at developing and maintaining such networks, will it be able to continue to develop clear and timely recommendations for the protection and improvement of public health. It is therefore the RKI’s vision to create a strong network of all public health stakeholders in Germany by 2025 and to harness the resulting synergies.

The strengthening of existing ties with other institutions should, however, not be limited to public health stakeholders, but also include other academic disciplines and scientific partners. For instance, to better fight zoonotic infections in the future, it will be vital for RKI to better understand interactions between pathogens and environmental factors and their impact on human health. The RKI therefore aims to create strong networks with partners and stakeholders in the fields of veterinary medicine and environmental public health: operations shall increasingly be viewed from a “One Health” perspective.

At the same time, the institute will further build on its successful work abroad. Pathogens such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria or influenza viruses do not respect national borders. And outbreaks such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people, are powerful reminders that Public Health must also be active internationally to protect the peoples’ health – in affected countries as well as in Germany. The same is true for the containment of bioterrorist threats, which can normally only be addressed by building international cooperations with trusted partners. It is therefore the RKI’s stated goal to assume even greater responsibility for international and global health issues by 2025 and to thereby make an important contribution to health protection not only in Germany but also worldwide. New organizational structures, supported by the RKI’s existing capacity, will help us to take on these new tasks.

3.1. Promoting research and evidence, sharing knowledge

The rapid technological development we have witnessed over recent years has created new opportunities in the health care sector to collect data and expand the evidence base for interventions. Through methodological advances in the analysis and processing of complex data sets, the RKI will be able to expand its competencies in the area of digital epidemiology over the coming years.
Simultaneously, the institute will further expand its existing capacities in the fields of biostatistics, laboratory technology and IT, and it will develop new competencies, e.g. in the area of artificial intelligence. Among other things, this will include an increase in molecular surveillance of pathogens and a systematic combination of laboratory data with insights from infectious disease epidemiology.
The RKI’s future strategy not only builds on the analysis of its own data sources or those of partners but also aims to improve the communication of analysis results, tailoring them specifically to target groups and allowing them to convert these findings into concrete policy measures.

Unlocking new data sources

In an increasingly connected world, the amount of data that can be scientifically evaluated is growing constantly. If the RKI wants to successfully fulfill its mission of recognizing, preventing and combating disease in the future, it will have to make full use of new data sources and corresponding methodologies for their analysis. Of particular interest to public health is the incorporation of large, unstructured data sets. By combining numerous data sources with epidemiological surveillance data, the RKI will in the future be able to detect, evaluate and respond to emerging health threats. In addition to a more rapid detection of outbreaks, the institute also aims to increase the reliability of risk assessments and forecasts. To this end, the institute will also strengthen its capacities in the areas of real-time diagnostics and prognostics. These will be complemented by existing competencies in the fields of epidemiology, microbiology, biostatistics, and network analysis, which will help to continually assess and improve newly introduced methods and technologies. Network analysis will also play an important role in combination with next generation genome sequencing and imaging technologies. In combination with data from syndromic surveillance systems that can be further enhanced with social networking data, the risk of outbreaks and their course can be predicted with even higher levels of accuracy. New technologies will therefore improve not only the prediction of outbreaks but also the modeling of their course and the analysis of a pathogen’s specific characteristics.
For non-communicable diseases, the combination of data from statutory health insurance companies, government statistics, and geographical information systems with RKI’s own monitoring data will allow for regional health status reporting, which will form the foundation of concrete policy recommendations that the institute can develop. To achieve this, the RKI will adapt and further develop its IT infrastructure to meet the technical requirements of new methods and technologies.

Communicating and sharing knowledge

The RKI informs the scientific community and advises political stakeholders in all questions related to public health and global health. Due to the increasing scientific complexity of many issues related to these topics, there is an increased need for clear and targeted communication. In addition, the RKI’s communication strategy must take into account that the institute’s recommendations and advice in outbreak scenarios will also be read by the general public, which expects timely and clear information. Therefore, it is the expressed aim of the institute to better cater to the needs of its target audiences by strengthening its competencies in the area of knowledge transfer and to develop and test new models of communication. A first step in this process will be the development of a comprehensive communication strategy, which will also include the remodeling of the institute’s website. These activities will be closely coordinated with the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA), to ensure an optimal integration into existing communication concepts.

Moreover, the RKI intends to develop evidence-based methods for communicating with specific target audiences. This includes for instance the graphical representation of surveillance and monitoring data, which would not only help political decision makers to understand new developments but would also allow for a continuous, easily understandable evaluation of changes in the health status of the population.
To encourage the implementation of its recommendations and reach target groups effectively, the RKI will also develop additional competencies in the areas of behavioral psychology and behavioral economics. These competencies are intended to inform future communication models, especially for outbreak situations and crisis management, and are intended to be shared with other federal agencies.

The RKI’s emphasis on knowledge sharing also includes an even more active role in the education of future public health professionals. The institute will achieve this by strengthening existing ties and forging new connections with academic institutions, both nationally and internationally.

3.2. Sharing knowledge through networks and protecting health

A high degree of complexity is a characteristic shared by almost all challenges that the RKI faces going forward. In many instances, these are health policy issues that defy technical fixes and whose effects can at best be mitigated over time. This is true for topics as diverse as antibiotic resistance and healthy ageing, both of which will be of high importance for the entire health care sector over the coming decade.
What unites these diverse issues, however, is that they present truly interdisciplinary challenges that must be addressed by a broad range of experts, both within and outside the RKI. As a result, the institute aims to further strengthen its external partnerships at both the national and the international level by 2025.

In Germany, the public health system is supported by a range of strong institutions and stakeholders whose cumulative activities make an important contribution to protecting and improving the health of the population. However, there remains room for improvement in many areas. As the national public health institute, the RKI has a special responsibility in connecting the respective stakeholders in the field of public health in Germany. In agreement with its partners, the RKI will therefore take on a more active role as coordinator of existing public health initiatives in order to better align them and foster synergies.

One Health

In addition to creating stronger networks among members of the public health community in Germany, the RKI will also strengthen interdisciplinary cooperation with adjacent professional fields. A particular point of interest in this context is the strengthening of a “One Health” approach. “One Health” stands for the promotion of an interdisciplinary, intersectoral approach to health, which recognizes the close ties between animal, human and environmental health. Health challenges such as antibiotic resistance can only be addressed effectively if agencies in the fields of human and veterinary medicine collaborate with partners in environmental public health and share their respective insights and experiences. Year after year, this approach has received increasing attention, and the RKI will build on existing contacts in veterinary medicine and environmental public health to better integrate a “One Health” approach into its work. Initially, this will primarily occur at the national level. An improved model of sharing data and information will be developed and is expected to allow for more accurate assessments of risks and potential interventions in the areas of zoonotic diseases and the transfer of antibiotic resistance. Furthermore, the links between health and environmental factors are of great importance for the RKI’s work on non-communicable diseases; in addition to the physical, biological and technological environment, the consideration of social environments is of particular importance.

Healthy ageing and demographic change

The immense demographic changes currently underway in Germany have created a number of new challenges for health care provision, in relation to both infectious and non-communicable diseases. In order to address the issue of healthy ageing effectively, it must be integrated into the RKI’s work across departments. This will enable the institute to monitor demographic changes, their causes, and their implications and allow the RKI to develop concrete recommendations for health policy in Germany. Moving forward, the RKI will establish an interdepartmental working group to ensure the coordination of ongoing activities related to this topic at the institute and to develop new projects that focus on ways to improve health at older ages.

International networks

Many public health challenges cannot be regionally confined. As a result, international cooperation will be of increasing importance. The RKI already plays a central role in the coordination and development of public health at the national level, which it implements successfully in cooperation with its partners. By significantly expanding its capacities in the area of international cooperation and establishing new structures at the institute, the RKI will become the leading scientific institution for global health in Germany. A closer collaboration with partner institutions such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization will also increase the international visibility of the institute.
By strengthening its profile in the area of global health, the RKI contributes to the implementation of G7 targets on health and the Sustainable Development Goals. A regular exchange of knowledge and experiences with international partners also offers the opportunity to further develop the institute’s own competencies. In addition, the RKI will assist partner states with the implementation of international health regulations and will thereby contribute to the strengthening of national health care systems and capacities in the field of public health.

Crisis management and health protection

In the event of a health crisis, it is important to act quickly and effectively, while maintaining the flexibility to respond to sudden changes in the situation. In order to be able to respond appropriately, the RKI will therefore continue to strengthen its already considerable capacities in the field of health crisis management and health protection.
An effective crisis management also depends on the immediate availability of scientific knowledge, effective decision making structures, sufficient resources and close collaboration with partner institutions that can place their trust in well-established processes and structures.
Consequently, the development of national preparedness protocols and the joint development of training exercises are of critical importance for improving the response to a sudden crisis. The RKI’s investment in these areas will help to further improve the institute’s ability to handle unforeseen situations and reduce reaction times in outbreak scenarios. Furthermore, the RKI plans to continue its support of national and international partners in dealing with biological threats. This is particularly relevant in the field of biosafety, where a stronger cooperation with partners will improve preparedness for bioterrorist threats. The RKI already has close ties with the relevant agencies in this field and aims to further strengthen them in the future.

Date: 26.06.2017