Health surveillance in Cox’s Bazar: WHO’s diseases detectives

Nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees living in crowded conditions, with poor access to clean water and safe sanitation and with no vaccination history, makes it a population extremely vulnerable to many life threatening diseases and outbreaks.

Real time information about any suspected case of infectious disease is essential for rapid investigations and actions.

WHO’s field epidemiology team from Cox’s bazar, also known as WHO’s diseases detectives, are the ones receiving and analysing all alerts of suspected cases coming from 155 health facilities in the camps.

Their weapon: EWARS in a Box, a field ready Early Warning, Alert and Response System, an effective disease surveillance system that allows health facilities to report information to WHO in real time. This is an essential tool for detecting disease outbreaks quickly, before they spread, cost lives and become difficult to control.

There are more than 70 weekly alerts for cases suspected of Acute Watery Diarrhoea, Acute Jaundice Syndrome, Bloody diarrhoea etc. Each of these cases, if confirmed, has the potential to turn into an outbreak, infecting hundreds and thousands of people, claiming lives that can be saved by early actions. All alerts are rapidly assessed to determine if they pose any risk of causing an outbreak. “Detectives” collect more information from health facilities and if the suspicions are still present, epidemiological teams are rapidly deployed in the camps to personally assess the cases and take immediate actions.

WHO Bangladesh/ C. Bercaru

If a patient has all the symptoms of an infectious diseases that can turn into an outbreak, the field epidemiologists immediately track where he or she lives, how the disease was contracted, if other members of family or of community present similar symptoms. Their role is to identify the risks, mitigate them and prevent them from spreading to others in the community.

Based on the data received through EWARS, the WHO’s Epidemiological team produces and distributes health bulletins that are used by the entire health sector in Cox’s Bazar. The information generated provides information on the current situation but also provides technical advice on interventions that will improve the health situation.