Lessons learned from implementation of a national hotline for Ebola virus disease emergency preparedness in South Sudan

Confl Health. 2021 Apr 15;15(1):27. doi: 10.1186/s13031-021-00360-x.


Background: The world's second largest Ebola outbreak occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2018 to 2020. At the time, risk of cross-border spread into South Sudan was very high. Thus, the South Sudan Ministry of Health scaled up Ebola preparedness activities in August 2018, including implementation of a 24-h, toll-free Ebola virus disease (EVD) hotline. The primary purpose was the hotline was to receive EVD alerts and the secondary goal was to provide evidence-based EVD messages to the public.

Methods: To assess whether the hotline augmented Ebola preparedness activities in a protracted humanitarian emergency context, we reviewed 22 weeks of call logs from January to June 2019. Counts and percentages were calculated for all available data.

Results: The hotline received 2114 calls during the analysis period, and an additional 1835 missed calls were documented. Callers used the hotline throughout 24-h of the day and were most often men and individuals living in Jubek state, where the national capital is located. The leading reasons for calling were to learn more about EVD (68%) or to report clinical signs or symptoms (16%). Common EVD-related questions included EVD signs and symptoms, transmission, and prevention. Only one call was documented as an EVD alert, and there was no documentation of reported symptoms or whether the person met the EVD case definition.

Conclusions: Basic surveillance information was not collected from callers. To trigger effective outbreak investigation from hotline calls, the hotline should capture who is reporting and from where, symptoms and travel history, and whether this information should be further investigated. Electronic data capture will enhance data quality and availability of information for review. Additionally, the magnitude of missed calls presents a major challenge. When calls are answered, there is potential to provide health communication, so risk communication needs should be considered. However, prior to hotline implementation, governments should critically assess whether their hotline would yield actionable data and if other data sources for surveillance or community concerns are available.

Keywords: Ebola; Emergency preparedness; Hotline.