Challenges with the implementation of an Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) system: systematic review of the lessons learned

Health Policy Plan. 2015 Feb;30(1):131-43. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czt097. Epub 2013 Dec 20.


Introduction: Despite a realistic strategy and availability of resources, multiple challenges still overwhelm countries grappling with the challenges of communicable disease surveillance. The Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) strategy is by far the most pragmatic strategy in resource-poor settings. The objective of this study was to systematically review and document the lessons learned and the challenges identified with the implementation of the IDSR in low- and middle-income countries and to identify the main barriers that contribute to its sub-optimal functioning.

Methods: A systematic review of literature published in English using Web of Knowledge, PubMed, and databases of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) between 1998 and 2012 was undertaken. Additionally, manual reference and grey literature searches were conducted. Citations describing core and support functions or the quality attributes of the IDSR as described by WHO and CDC were included in the review.

Results: Thirty-three assessment studies met the inclusion criteria. IDSR strategy has been best adopted and implemented in the WHO-AFRO region. Although significant progress is made in overcoming the challenges identified with vertical disease surveillance strategies, gaps still exist. Mixed challenges with core and support IDSR functions were observed across countries. Main issues identified include non-sustainable financial resources, lack of co-ordination, inadequate training and turnover of peripheral staff, erratic feedback, inadequate supervision from the next level, weak laboratory capacities coupled with unavailability of job aids (case definitions/reporting formats), and poor availability of communication and transport systems particularly at the periphery. Best outcomes in core functions and system attributes were reported when support surveillance functions performed optimally. Apart from technical and technological issues, human resources and the health care system structures that receive the IDSR determine its output.

Conclusions: The challenges identified with IDSR implementation are largely 'systemic'. IDSR will best benefit from skill-based training of personnel and strengthening of the support surveillance functions alongside health care infrastructures at the district level.

Keywords: Assessment; Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR); challenges; implementation; lessons learned.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Disease Control / methods
  • Communicable Disease Control / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Program Development
  • Program Evaluation
  • Public Health Surveillance* / methods