Terveyden ja Hyvinvoinnin Laitos (THL) - EUPHEM

acknowledged by EUPHEM available for next EUPHEM cohort
Expert Microbiology Unit
P.O. Box 30
FI-00271 Helsinki

Contact person

Lotta Siira, Main supervisor
Carita Savolainen-Kopra, Co-supervisor

Description of the institute

The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) was founded in 2009, following the merger of the National Public Health Institute (KTL) and the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES). THL is a research and expert institute committed to protecting and promoting health and welfare in Finland. THL is a community of 1100 highly educated experts from a broad selection of fields.

The infectious disease activities are organized into Department of Health Security and Department of Public Health Solutions. The laboratories within them have accredited services recognized by the Finnish Accreditation Service (FINAS) according to the SFS-EN ISO/IEC 17025:2005.

THL is the national contact point for the EU EWRS-system and the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), and operates the national level 24/7/365 IHR and EU-level infectious disease early warning and rapid response duty services with a constant access to national and international level response authorities. THL is the coordinating competent body of the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and provides the national level infectious disease surveillance data for the EU level. THL experts serve as the ECDC National Focal Points and as Operational Contact points for many diseases/disease groups under EU level surveillance.

To support the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, THL’s responsibilities also cover supporting preparedness planning, issuing proposals and recommendations on evidence-based control measures, as well as producing guidelines to clinical microbiology diagnostic laboratories, health care professionals, and in matters of general interest, also the general public.

The main public health functions in the area of infectious diseases are:

  • to provide analysis and strategic policy advice on infectious disease epidemiology and control on the national level
  • to maintain and develop the national level systems for the surveillance of infectious diseases, including surveillance of microbial resistance and health-care associated infections. These tasks are executed through a combination of electronic notification systems, sentinel surveillance systems, targeted studies and national reference laboratory functions for enhanced infectious disease surveillance
  • to assess and evaluate clinical microbiology diagnostic laboratories for national licensure
  • to support the regional and local health authorities in their surveillance and control tasks. The National Infectious Disease Register (NIDR) is the main surveillance tool and the department provides direct web-based secure remote access to the reported data for the municipal and hospital district physicians in charge of infectious disease surveillance and control
  • to cooperate with national veterinary and food safety authorities in order to provide expertise to local authorities in epidemiologic and outbreak investigations, to support and advise them in implementing infectious disease control measures and provide reference microbiology laboratory services
  • to plan and implement the national vaccination programme together with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
  • to conduct vaccine specific evaluation and research ranging from vaccine coverage and safety surveillance to large scale phase IV studies on impact of new vaccines and mathematical modelling to predict the outcome of different programmatic choices
  • to conduct sero-surveys as well as to develop methods to better understand immune related vaccine adverse events

Training opportunities

The EUPHEM fellow is given considerable latitude and support in developing projects designed to his/her areas of interest and training needs, including:

  • Laboratory surveillance and research projects of main infectious diseases of public health importance based on data in the National Infectious Disease Register (NIDR) established in 1995 
  • Food- and waterborne outbreak investigations, including outbreak surveillance with structured surveillance scheme (RYMY)
  • Clinical surveillance of outpatient visits due to respiratory infections based on data in the Register of Primary Health Care Visits (AvoHilmo).
  • Laboratory-based surveillance of influenza and other respiratory tract viruses
  • Laboratory-based surveillance of enteric virus and bacterial infections
  • Laboratory-based (sample-based) surveillance of HIV and hepatitis C
  • Laboratory-based surveillance of vaccine-preventable viral and invasive bacterial infections
  • Laboratory-based surveillance of healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance
  • Possibility to participate in national antimicrobial susceptibility data collection (FINRES) and analysis under expert supervision
  • Molecular epidemiology and analysis of microbial virulence determinants of viruses and bacteria including next generation sequencing methods
  • Possibility to work in the BSL-3 laboratory: virology and mycobacteriology
  • Possibility to participate in the work of Finnish Zoonosis Center, a co-operational network between THL and the Finnish Food Authority experts coordinating surveillance on zoonosis and food and water borne infections
  • Possibility to work at the THL Infectious Disease Control and Vaccinations Unit under expert supervision
  • Analysis of data from National Vaccination Register and National Register of Vaccine Related Adverse Events in collaboration with and supervision of expertsSerological antibody surveys of vaccine preventable microbes/toxins to evaluate and improve the National Vaccination Programme and analysis of immune protection against significant microbial pathogens
  • Participation in mathematical modelling and cost analyses of spread and control of infectious diseases
  • Teaching experience in the national and international laboratory and communicable disease workshops and local meetings
  • International assignments are encouraged
  • EUPHEM fellows placed in Finland can also receive part of his/her training at Haartman Institute of the University of Helsinki, where basic and applied research on molecular biology and immunology of microbial infections as well as their pathogenic mechanisms is conducted, and new diagnostics for infectious diseases are developed. Haartman Institute shares facilities with the Helsinki University Central Hospital Laboratory, enabling close collaboration between the two organisations. The main collaborator for the EUPHEM programme at the Haartman Institute is the Viral Zoonoses Research Group, the main study targets being Tick-borne encephalitis, Puumala hantavirus, Sindbis virus, and dengue.

All necessary support including computer equipment, communication and library facilities are available.

Training supervision

In the beginning of the training, a work plan will be formulated to fulfill the goals of the EUPHEM program in relation to the already established skills of the fellow. Selection of projects is done after discussions with EUPHEM training team members. He/she will be based in the department and able to ask for help from any experts at the institute when necessary. He/she will be able to participate in training, meetings and conferences organized at the institute and in other places in Finland and, if needed, also abroad.

Language requirements

English. Developing conversational skills in Finnish or Swedish is appreciated, but not required. During field investigations, the fellow works together with native speaking colleagues fluent in English.

Training history

THL has been acknowledged as a EUPHEM training site since 2012, and has hosted EU-track EUPHEM fellows in 2012, 2014 and 2016. The site is currently hosting a fellow from cohort 2018.

THL has a long history in EPIET training:

  • Number of EU-track EPIET fellows hosted at THL: Twelve (1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017) and currently, two in training from cohorts 2018 and 2019
  • Number of MS-track EPIET fellows hosted at THL: Two (2007, 2008)
  • Number of EPIET or EUPHEM alumni working at THL: Seven