Conducting public health surveillance in areas of armed conflict and restricted population access: a qualitative case study of polio surveillance in conflict-affected areas of Borno State, Nigeria


Eric Wiesen, Raymond Dankoli, Melton Musa, Jeff Higgins, Joseph Forbi, Jibrin Idris, Ndadilnasiya Waziri, Oladapo Ogunbodede, Kabiru Mohammed, Omotayo Bolu, Gatei WaNganda, Usman Adamu & Eve Pinsker


This study examined the impact of armed conflict on public health surveillance systems, the limitations of traditional surveillance in this context, and innovative strategies to overcome these limitations. A qualitative case study was conducted to examine the factors affecting the functioning of poliovirus surveillance in conflict-affected areas of Borno state, Nigeria using semi-structured interviews of a purposeful sample of participants. The main inhibitors of surveillance were inaccessibility, the destroyed health infrastructure, and the destroyed communication network. These three challenges created a situation in which the traditional polio surveillance system could not function. Three strategies to overcome these challenges were viewed by respondents as the most impactful. First, local community informants were recruited to conduct surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis in children in the inaccessible areas. Second, the informants engaged in local-level negotiation with the insurgency groups to bring children with paralysis to accessible areas for investigation and sample collection. Third, GIS technology was used to track the places reached for surveillance and vaccination and to estimate the size and location of the inaccessible population. A modified monitoring system tracked tailored indicators including the number of places reached for surveillance and the number of acute flaccid paralysis cases detected and investigated, and utilized GIS technology to map the reach of the program. The surveillance strategies used in Borno were successful in increasing surveillance sensitivity in an area of protracted conflict and inaccessibility. This approach and some of the specific strategies may be useful in other areas of armed conflict.