Login Form

Lost Password?
Disease surveillance system helps detect potential outbreaks

12 June 2015


Almost three months after Cyclone Pam descended upon Vanuatu, the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and their partners continue to monitor, investigate and respond to potential disease outbreaks across the country.

“With many houses and sanitation facilities destroyed and yet to be rebuilt, people have limited access to clean water and are living with poor hygiene,” said local Disease Surveillance Officer George Worwor.

“This increases the risk of disease transmission.”

Before the cyclone, the Ministry of Health monitored the number of cases of prolonged fever, acute fever and rash, diarrhoea and influenza-like illness, at eight health facilities across Vanuatu.

Following the cyclone, a post-disaster early warning surveillance and response network (EWARN) was set up through the Ministry of Health and multi-partner collaborative efforts to monitor more illnesses in extra locations that were affected by the cyclone.

“A bigger network increases the reach and therefore the effectiveness of the network,” said WHO Epidemiologist Dr Axelle Ronsse.

“It has allowed health partners to respond to alerts from health facilities around the country quickly, so that potential outbreaks can be stopped and lives saved.”

The Ministry of Health and WHO jointly coordinated the effort, with technical support and capacity building of local staff by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

“This response extends beyond the immediate threat of disease post-cyclone – together we will continue to help strengthen the existing surveillance system for detecting and responding to future outbreaks,” said Dr Yvan Souares, Deputy Director of the Public Health Division at SPC.

Once the network generates an alert, investigation and further actions can be taken to ensure the disease does not spread to the community. Some actions include sanitation, medication, immunization and admission to hospital.

After the cyclone, the Ministry led a successful vaccination campaign that saw almost 24,000 young children immunized against measles.

However, after numerous reports of cases of measles on Efate, people are still urged to get immunized, especially children aged under 15, and to practice good hygiene.

The network has detected other spikes in illnesses in the aftermath of the cyclone, including diarrhoea, influenza-like illness and fever with rash.

More than 500 cases of influenza-like illness, which includes a fever plus a cough or sore throat, were reported in the last month. In East Ambrym, several adults reported fever, swollen legs and sores. Incidences of acute fever and rash have also increased on Efate.

As the health sector response transitions into longer-term recovery, the Ministry of Health and partners will continue to monitor reports of illnesses according to the pre-cyclone disease surveillance system.

Media contacts:

Eva Westfield, Risk Communications Officer at WHO (email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it )
Christelle Lepers, surveillance information and communication officer at SPC (email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it )

Details of SPC and WHO's responses to Cyclone Pam are available at:

Photo: Paul White, SPC.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 13 August 2015 )