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The impact of conflict on infectious disease: a systematic literature review


Background: Conflict situations, armed or not, have been associated with emergence and transmission of infectious diseases. This review aims to identify the pathways through which infectious diseases emerge within conflict situations and to outline appropriate infectious disease preparedness and response strategies.

Methods: A systematic review was performed representing published evidence from January 2000 to October 2023. Ovid Medline and Embase were utilised to obtain literature on infectious diseases in any conflict settings. The systematic review adhered to PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis). No geographical restrictions were imposed.

Findings: Our review identified 51 studies covering AIDS, Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis, Cholera, Coronavirus 2, Ebola, Poliomyelitis, Malaria, Leishmaniasis, Measles, Diphtheria, Dengue and Acute Bacterial Meningitis within conflict settings in Europe, Middle East, Asia, and Africa since October 2023. Key factors contributing to disease emergence and transmission in conflict situations included population displacement, destruction of vital infrastructure, reduction in functioning healthcare systems and healthcare personnel, disruption of disease control programmes (including reduced surveillance, diagnostic delays, and interrupted vaccinations), reduced access by healthcare providers to populations within areas of active conflict, increased population vulnerability due to limited access to healthcare services, and disruptions in the supply chain of safe water, food, and medication. To mitigate these infectious disease risks reported preparedness and response strategies included both disease-specific intervention strategies as well as broader concepts such as the education of conflict-affected populations through infectious disease awareness programmes, investing in and enabling health care in locations with displaced populations, intensifying immunisation campaigns, and ensuring political commitment and intersectoral collaborations between governments and international organisations.

Conclusion: Conflict plays a direct and indirect role in the transmission and propagation of infectious diseases. The findings from this review can assist decision-makers in the development of evidence-based preparedness and response strategies for the timely and effective containment of infectious disease outbreaks in conflict zones and amongst conflict-driven displaced populations. Funding European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control under specific contract No. 22 ECD.13,154 within Framework contract ECDC/2019/001 Lot 1B.

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Journal Article
Marou V
Vardavas CI
Aslanoglou K
Nikitara K
Plyta Z
Leonardi-Bee J
Atkins K
Condell O
Lamb F
Suk JE