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Analytical summary - Epidemic and pandemic-prone diseases

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In 2004, Sierra Leone adopted the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response as a strategy to streamline and improve data collection, reporting and analysis from previously disparate disease-reporting systems in the country.

The list of priority communicable diseases was reviewed and increased to 22 in 2007 and training on Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response was provided for district health management team members. In addition, an integrated maternal morbidity reduction and child survival tool was developed and introduced, capturing key indicators of all vertical programmes. Two main diseases of serious epidemic potential have occurred in Sierra Leone in the past 5 years: Lassa fever and yellow fever.

In 2004, a Sub-Regional Meeting on Lassa Fever Control in the Mano River Union Countries, involving Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, was convened by WHO, with support from the United States Agency for International Development and others. The Mano River Union laboratory network has since been established and a new laboratory added to the Kenema Government Hospital to enhance case detection and management.

There are indications that Lassa fever has become endemic in some districts. A 12-month European Union funded project for the establishment of a community-based surveillance project is currently being implemented. Routine yellow fever vaccination coverage was introduced in 2002 and coverage improved from about 60% in 2003 to about 79% in 2007. Coverage improved again to over 80% in 2010.

Following the outbreak of yellow fever in 2003, there have been two recent outbreaks of the disease in 2009 and 2011 in the Bo and Bonthe Districts, respectively. Thus, yellow fever continues to be a public health concern in the country.[1]

Sierra Leone, like other countries in the West African subregion, is exposed to increased public health risks associated with emergencies, disasters or crises. Diarrhoeal diseases, mainly cholera and dysentery from Shigella dysenteriae, also pose a major problem in the country.

Through the Directorate of Disease Prevention and Control, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation has put in place a mechanism for rapid response to the occurrence of any disease outbreak to forestall an epidemic.

The laboratory at the Lakka Hospital in the Western Area of Sierra Leone has now been upgraded into a public health laboratory and has started investigating cases of measles and yellow fever in Sierra Leone. Other specimens are sent to laboratories outside the country for verification of suspected diseases of public health interest. The Government of Sierra Leone is committed to the implementation of international health regulations.


  1. WHO Country Cooperation Strategy 2008–2013 Sierra Leone (pdf 943.71kb). Brazzaville, WHO Regional Office for Africa, 2009