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Confl Health. 2010 Feb 11;4:3. doi: 10.1186/1752-1505-4-3.

The burden of acute respiratory infections in crisis-affected populations: a systematic review.

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Disease Control in Humanitarian Emergencies, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.


Crises due to armed conflict, forced displacement and natural disasters result in excess morbidity and mortality due to infectious diseases. Historically, acute respiratory infections (ARIs) have received relatively little attention in the humanitarian sector. We performed a systematic review to generate evidence on the burden of ARI in crises, and inform prioritisation of relief interventions. We identified 36 studies published since 1980 reporting data on the burden (incidence, prevalence, proportional morbidity or mortality, case-fatality, attributable mortality rate) of ARI, as defined by the International Classification of Diseases, version 10 and as diagnosed by a clinician, in populations who at the time of the study were affected by natural disasters, armed conflict, forced displacement, and nutritional emergencies. We described studies and stratified data by age group, but did not do pooled analyses due to heterogeneity in case definitions. The published evidence, mainly from refugee camps and surveillance or patient record review studies, suggests very high excess morbidity and mortality (20-35% proportional mortality) and case-fatality (up to 30-35%) due to ARI. However, ARI disease burden comparisons with non-crisis settings are difficult because of non-comparability of data. Better epidemiological studies with clearer case definitions are needed to provide the evidence base for priority setting and programme impact assessments. Humanitarian agencies should include ARI prevention and control among infants, children and adults as priority activities in crises. Improved data collection, case management and vaccine strategies will help to reduce disease burden.

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