Objective: To implement simplified infectious disease surveillance and epidemic disease control during the relocation of Bhutanese refugees to Nepal.
Design: Longitudinal observation study of mortality and morbidity.
Setting: Refugee health units in six refugee camps housing 73,500 Bhutanese refugees in the eastern tropical lowland between Nepal and India.
Interventions: Infectious disease surveillance and community-based programs to promote vitamin A supplementation, measles vaccination, oral rehydration therapy, and early use of antibiotics to treat acute respiratory infection.
Main outcome measures: Crude mortality rate, mortality rate for children younger than 5 years, and cause-specific mortality.
Results: Crude mortality rates up to 1.15 deaths per 10,000 persons per day were reported during the first 6 months of surveillance. The leading causes of death were measles, diarrhea, and acute respiratory infections. Surveillance data were used to institute changes in public health management including measles vaccination, vitamin A supplementation, and control programs for diarrhea and acute respiratory infections and to ensure rapid responses to cholera, Shigella dysentery, and meningoencephalitis. Within 4 months of establishing disease control interventions, crude mortality rates were reduced by 75% and were below emergency levels.
Conclusions: Simple, sustainable disease surveillance in refugee populations is essential during emergency relief efforts. Data can be used to direct community-based public health interventions to control common infectious diseases and reduce high mortality rates among refugees while placing a minimal burden on health workers.