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Analytical summary - Epidemic and pandemic-prone diseases

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Factors that increase the vulnerability of many African communities to epidemics include weak health systems, high level of women’s illiteracy, poverty, inadequate water and sanitation systems, and poor general hygiene levels. These are compounded by limited public awareness, together with natural and man-made disasters.

The WHO African Region is regularly affected by epidemics sweeping through its countries, leaving already fragile health systems struggling to cope. In 1998, the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) framework was adopted, with the aim of integrating and streamlining common surveillance activities and their human and financial resource costs.

These epidemics include cholera, meningitis, measles, viral haemorrhagic fever, influenza and dysentery. Meningococcal meningitis and cholera occur seasonally in many African countries, resulting in high morbidity and mortality rates.

Effective disease surveillance requires an effective early warning and response system so that control measures can be taken promptly. Since 2008, the WHO "event management system" has been in use by all countries of the Region and all countries have reported cases through the system.

For maximum benefit and efficiency, countries are encouraged to prepare consolidated, multisectoral IDSR plans, rather than exclusively disease-specific epidemic plans. The list of priority diseases in the IDSR framework has been revised to incorporate emerging diseases of public health importance, and laboratory capacity, containment and function have been analysed in respect of present abilities to support integrated IDSR and International Health Regulations (IHR) functions.

It has been decided that due to the overlap in requirements and capacities between IDSR and the revised IHR, the two entities should be considered together within the Region.

To strengthen capacity to address epidemics or pandemics, a more decentralized, district focus is necessary and the development of further tools and guidelines is required to speed compliance with IDSR and IHR provisions.