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Potential use of school absenteeism record for disease surveillance in developing countries, case study in rural Cambodia.

Abstract

Disease surveillance allows prospective monitoring of patterns in disease incidence in the general community, specific institutions (e.g. hospitals, elderly care homes), and other important population subgroups. Surveillance activities are now routinely conducted in many developed countries and in certain easy-to-reach areas of the developing ones. However due to limited health resources, population in rural area that consisted of the most the vulnerable groups are not under surveillance. Cheaper alternative ways for disease surveillance were needed in resource-limited settings.

School absenteeism data is pre-existing, easily accessible and requires minimum time and resources after initial development, and our results suggest that this system may be able to provide complementary data for disease surveillance, especially in resource limited settings where there is very little information on illnesses in the community and traditional surveillance systems are difficult to implement. An important next step is to validate the syndromic data with other forms of surveillance including laboratory data.

In this study, a syndromic surveillance system using disease specific absenteeism rates was established in 47 pre-schools with 1,417 students 3-6 y of age in a rural area of Kampot province, Cambodia. School absenteeism data were collected via short message service. Data collected between 1st January and 31st December 2012 was used for system evaluation for future potential use in larger scale. The system appeared to be feasible and acceptable in the rural study setting. Moderate correlation was found between rates of school absenteeism due to illness and the reference data on rates of attendance at health centers in persons <16 y (maximum cross-correlation coefficient = 0.231 at lag = -1 week).

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