Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and partners plan new approach to detect and respond to outbreaks

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The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) in collaboration with WHO met with partners in May to plan a new approach to detect and respond to disease outbreaks in Africa. The new approach, called ‘event-based surveillance,’ involves using open source information, such as social media posts, to detect events that might pose a risk to public health. Africa CDC will partner with the World Health Organisation and others to strengthen event-based surveillance in the 18 countries that have already begun using this approach and will work to introduce it in the remaining 37 African countries.

In the last decades, the world has undergone rapid changes, including massive increases in urbanisation, population movement, and international trade and travel. New threats have emerged, including novel infectious diseases, bioterrorism, and environmental, chemical, and nuclear accidents. To address these threats, the World Health Assembly revised the International Health Regulations in 2005, mandating that all countries detect, assess, notify, and respond to all acute threats to human health.

To comply with the International Health Regulations, countries need strong disease surveillance systems. Conventional disease surveillance systems rely on persons presenting to health facilities, and having medical staff at health facilities report to government authorities when these persons have a disease of public health concern. Africa CDC is committed to strengthening how countries detect these cases, verify their disease with laboratory testing, report cases to central authorities, and integrate, analyse, and use the data they collect.

During the meeting the Africa CDC committed to trying new approaches to strengthen surveillance, such as event-based surveillance. Event-based surveillance can complement conventional disease surveillance by relying on lay persons, including community hearth workers, not necessarily health facilities, to report clusters of illness to authorities, to media, or through social media. Health authorities can use the internet or other systems to gather this data, assess the risk to human health, and then respond accordingly. Africa CDC will be documenting the best practices and lessons learnt from the 18 Member States who have already introduced some form of event based surveillance. Africa CDC will also develop a practical country-level guide on how to implement event based surveillance and use its regional collaborating centres in Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Gabon to work with countries to implement.