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Rapid mortality surveillance for COVID-19 in West Africa

Since the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) has been instrumental in supporting the ministries of health in sub-Saharan Africa to respond to this pandemic. In line with this support AFENET, in collaboration with Resolve to Save Lives (RTSL), is implementing a COVID-19 rapid mortality surveillance (RMS) project in five West African countries namely: Togo, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Started in July 2020, the overall objective of the RMS project is to provide real time evidence-based information on overall mortality within the context of COVID-19 pandemic by determining the excess mortality after cases of COVID-19 were first detected in these respective countries compared to the period before the first COVID-19 cases were detected. In each of the countries, AFENET is working in collaboration with the respective ministries of Health (including selected public and private hospitals, as well as existing community health workers), national institutes of public health and other key stakeholders.

According to Dr Ben Masiira, the project technical lead, the project fills an important gap in knowledge about COVID-19 deaths. “Many countries in Africa are struggling to understand mortality attributed directly or indirectly to the COVID-19 pandemic. With funding from RTSL, this project is therefore filling an important gap in knowledge by providing real time data on excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data generated from the project is critical in generating evidence on the magnitude and direction of mortality trends and hence guide the ministries of health to take evidence-based decisions as well as instituting targeted interventions”.

Dr Anguzu, the project coordinator, explains that data on deaths regardless of cause has been collected both prospectively and retrospectively at health facilities using facility attendance registers. He adds that in communities, existing village-level healthcare providers were trained to use mobile devices to prospectively collect data on deaths regardless of cause occurring in the community.