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Analytical summary - Epidemic and pandemic-prone diseases

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Structures have been established in Malawi to respond to outbreaks of disease and epidemics. A multisectoral District Epidemic Management Committee has been constituted at national and district levels and is responsible for epidemic management, including:

  • reviewing and approving the epidemic preparedness and response plan
  • mobilizing resources for epidemic prevention and control
  • coordinating and monitoring control activities, including dissemination of information to the public and media
  • monitoring resource utilization.

In addition, epidemic readiness and intervention guidelines to respond to outbreaks/epidemics have been developed for use at district level.

Laboratories are essential to disease surveillance, as they not only offer confirmation of suspected cases in an outbreak but also provide a current and dynamic picture of the disease burden in the community. Most effective surveillance systems require a laboratory component.

In 1999, Malawi conducted an assessment of the national surveillance systems, epidemic preparedness and response in the country.[1] The assessment found that laboratories were performing a wide range of tests. However, an optimal laboratory system was not present as buildings, safety equipment, human resources and essential reagents and quality control were inadequate.

The Ministry of Health developed the National Medical Laboratory Policy in 2007, aimed at providing national standards and technical guidelines for the improvement and provision of laboratory services at all levels of health delivery care for patient management and disease surveillance and control.

Malawi adopted technical guidelines for integrated disease surveillance and response in the country.[2] The introduction of integrated disease surveillance and response aims to provide a rational basis for decision-making and implementing public health interventions. It aims to improve the ability of districts to detect and respond appropriately to diseases or conditions and other health events in their catchment areas.

Malawi has identified 15 priority diseases and conditions for integrated disease surveillance in the country. The priority diseases and conditions are:

  • epidemic-prone diseases (cholera, dysentery, bacterial meningitis, plague and viral haemorrhagic fevers);
  • diseases targeted for eradication and elimination (poliomyelitis, leprosy, neonatal tetanus and measles);
  • diseases of public health importance (pneumonia in children less that 5 years old, HIV/AIDS, malaria, schistosomiasis, sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis).

The country is implementing the International Health Regulations (2005) to enhance national, regional and global public health security. The Ministry of Health conducted a rapid assessment of its surveillance and response capacities in 2009 and the results of the assessment showed that there are inadequate health infrastructure and equipment and human resources at border posts. Based on the results, a draft implementation plan has been prepared for strengthening capacities. The country is on track to meet the target of having the implementation plans by 2012.


  1. Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, Ministry of Health, 1999
  2. Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, Ministry of Health, 2007