Journal Article

The value of community participation in disease surveillance: a case study from Niger*

Serigne M. Ndiaye, Linda Quick, Ousmane Sanda and Seydou Niandou

in Health Promotion International

Volume 18, issue 2, pages 89-98
Published in print June 2003 | ISSN: 0957-4824
Published online June 2003 | e-ISSN: 1460-2245 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/heapro/18.2.89
The value of community participation in disease surveillance: a case study from Niger*

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A team of researchers, including one behavioral scientist (S.M.N.) and three epidemiologists (L.Q., O.S. and S.N.) conducted community analyses to assess the social and cultural factors that affect the detection and reporting of disease cases in a surveillance system, using acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) surveillance in Niger as a case study. Over a 60-day period in the country, the research team reviewed written field reports and interviewed epidemiologists, nurses, community members and persons in governmental and non-governmental organizations. Overall, we found that the logistical difficulties of travel and communication, which are common in developing countries, constrain the conventional surveillance system that relies on epidemiologists visiting sites to discover and investigate cases, particularly in rural areas. Other challenges include: community members’ lack of knowledge about the possible link between a case of paralysis and a dangerous, communicable disease; lack of access to health care, including the low number of clinics and health care workers; cultural beliefs that favor seeking a local healer before consulting a nurse or physician; and health workers’ lack of training in AFP surveillance. The quality of surveillance in developing countries can improve if a community-based approach is adopted. Such a system has been used successfully in Niger during smallpox-eradication and guinea worm-control campaigns. In a community-based system, community members receive basic education or more extensive training to motivate and enable them to notify health care staff about possible cases of disease in a timely fashion. Local organizations, local projects and local leaders must be included to ensure the success of such a program. In Niger we found sufficient quantities of this type of social capital, along with enough local experience of past health campaigns, to suggest that a community-based approach can improve the level of comprehensiveness and sensitivity of surveillance.

Keywords: Africa; community-based surveillance; polio eradication; social assessments

Journal Article.  5578 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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