Ebola Virus Disease Surveillance in Two High-Transmission Districts of Sierra Leone During the 2013–2015 Outbreak: Surveillance Methods, Implications for Maternal and Child Health, and Recommendations

  • Allison M. Connolly
  • Alyssa J. Young
Part of the Global Maternal and Child Health book series (GMCH)


Effective surveillance for Ebola virus disease (EVD) was critical to control the 2013–2015 epidemic in West Africa. At the community level, this work was done by surveillance officers, who were responsible for conducting investigations to identify and refer suspected cases for testing and isolation. Surveillance was also conducted in health care facilities to identify potential cases of EVD and prevent spread of the disease within the facility.

Surveillance for EVD infection in pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding mothers and their children presented more challenges than in the general population. This was especially due to the nonspecific nature of the symptoms used to identify suspected cases of EVD, which overlapped with pregnancy, labor, and its complications, and diseases common in West Africa, notably, malaria. These challenges meant that conducting EVD surveillance itself had ramifications on maternal child health. These impacts were magnified by the breakdown in primary health care and restrictions on movement, which increased the number of ill persons detected through the surveillance system. At the same time, some people took measures to avoid the surveillance system by not reporting or seeking care for their sicknesses due to fear of referral to Ebola health care facilities.

Surveillance officers, mothers, and their families faced difficult choices, particularly regarding the separation of a mother from her baby when the mother met the criteria for suspected EVD and was referred for isolation and laboratory testing. If the baby was not also a suspected EVD case, the risk of nosocomial infection in Ebola holding facilities had to be weighed against the lack of infant formula in communities, making the decision on how to care for the baby difficult. Breakdowns in surveillance in communities and in health care facilities, along with lack of food and health services for those in quarantine, negatively impacted the health of mothers, their children, and the overall population. Additonally, it adversely affected outbreak control and the community’s trust and engagement on which it depended. Surveillance officers had to skillfully navigate these complex and dynamic circumstances in order to be effective.


Ebola virus disease EVD surveillance Case investigation Epidemiology Pregnancy Quarantine Postpartum women Infection prevention and control Malaria Primary health care Children Hospital surveillance Prenatal care Ebola transmission Ebola hotline Nosocomial infection Maternal and child health Infant Ebola epidemic Community-based surveillance Outreak response 


Dedication and Acknowledgments

This chapter is dedicated with respect and gratitude to the surveillance officers of Sierra Leone, who worked under arduous conditions on the front lines of this prolonged outbreak. For review of this draft, the authors would like to acknowledge Sorie Ibrahim Beareh Kamara, Salieu Jalloh (Bombali District), and Alhaji D. Kamara (Port Loko District), who worked as MOHS surveillance officers during the outbreak. The authors also acknowledge Indu B. Ahluwalia, MPH, PhD, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who collaborated with MOHS and WHO colleagues to conduct the cluster investigation described in this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Palladium (Data, Informatics and Analytical Solutions)Washington, DCUSA
  2. 2.Clinton Health Access Initiative (Malaria Analytics and Surveillance)BostonUSA

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