During the last decade, conflict or natural disasters have displaced unprecedented numbers of persons. This leads to conditions prone to outbreaks that imperil the health of displaced persons and threaten global health security. Past literature has minimally examined the association of communicable disease outbreaks with complex emergencies (CEs) and natural disasters (NDs).
To examine this association, we identified CEs and NDs using publicly available datasets from the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters and United Nations Flash and Consolidated Appeals archive for 2005–2014. We identified outbreaks from World Health Organization archives. We compared findings to identify overlap of outbreaks, including their types (whether or not of a vaccine-preventable disease), and emergency event types (CE, ND, or Both) by country and year using descriptive statistics and measure of association.
There were 167 CEs, 912 NDs, 118 events linked to ‘Both’ types of emergencies, and 384 outbreaks. Of CEs, 43% were associated with an outbreak; 24% NDs were associated with an outbreak; and 36% of ‘Both’ types of emergencies were associated with an outbreak. Africa was disproportionately affected, where 67% of total CEs, 67% of ‘Both’ events (CE and ND), and 46% of all outbreaks occurred for the study period. The odds ratio of a vaccine-preventable outbreak occurring in a CE versus an ND was 4.14 (95% confidence limits 1.9, 9.4).
CEs had greater odds of being associated with outbreaks compared with NDs. Moreover, CEs had high odds of a vaccine-preventable disease causing that outbreak. Focusing on better vaccine coverage could reduce CE-associated morbidity and mortality by preventing outbreaks from spreading.