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Trends of major disease outbreaks in the African region, 2003–2007

S Kebede
S Duale
A Yokouide
W Alemu


Background: Communicable disease outbreaks cause millions of deaths throughout Sub-Saharan Africa each year. Most of the diseases causing epidemics in the region have been nearly eradicated or brought under control in other parts of the world. In recent years, considerable effort has been directed toward public health initiatives and strategies with a potential for significant impact in the fight against infectious diseases. In 1998, the World Health Organization African Regional Office (WHO/AFRO) launched the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) strategy aimed at mitigating the impact of communicable diseases, including epidemic-prone diseases, through improving surveillance, laboratory confirmation and appropriate and timely public health interventions.
Over the past decade, WHO and its partners have been providing technical and financial resources to African countries to strengthen epidemic preparedness and response (EPR) activities.
Methods: This review examined the major epidemics reported to WHO/AFRO from 2003 to 2007. we conduct a review of documents and reports obtained from WHO/AFRO, WHO inter-country team, and partners and held meeting and discussions with key stakeholders to elicit the experiences of local, regional and international efforts against these epidemics to evaluate the lessons learned and to stimulate discussion on the future course for enhancing EPR.
Results: The most commonly reported epidemic outbreaks in Africa include: cholera, dysentery, malaria and hemorrhagic fevers (e.g. Ebola, Rift Valley fever, Crimean-Congo fever and yellow fever). The cyclic meningococcal meningitis outbreak that affects countries along the \meningitis belt. (spanning Sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal and The Gambia to Kenya and Ethiopia) accounts for other major epidemics in the region. The reporting of disease outbreaks to WHO/AFRO has improved since the launch of the IDSR strategy in 1998. Although the epidemic trends for cholera showed a decline in case fatality rate (CFR) suggesting improvement in detection and quality of response by the health sector, the number of countries affected has increased. Major epidemic diseases continue to occur in most countries in the region. Among the major challenges to overcome are: poor coordination of EPR, weak public health infrastructure, lack of trained workers and inconsistent supply of diagnostic, treatment and prevention commodities.
Conclusions: To successfully reduce the levels of morbidity and mortality resulting from epidemic outbreaks, urgent and long-term investments are needed to strengthen capacities for early detection and timely and effective response. Effective advocacy, collaboration and resource mobilization efforts involving local health officials, governments and the international community are critically needed to reduce the heavy burden of disease outbreaks on African populations.

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