Epidemiology of floods in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review of health outcomes

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Background: Floods have affected 2.3 billion people worldwide in the last 20 years, and are associated with a wide range of negative health outcomes. Climate change is projected to increase the number of people exposed to floods due to more variable precipitation and rising sea levels. Vulnerability to floods is highly dependent on economic wellbeing and other societal factors. Therefore, this systematic review synthesizes the evidence on health effects of flood exposure among the population of sub-Saharan Africa. Methods: We systematically searched two databases, Web of Science and PubMed, to find published articles. We included studies that (1) were published in English from 2010 onwards, (2) presented associations between flood exposure and health indicators, (3) focused on sub-Saharan Africa, and (4) relied on a controlled study design, such as cohort studies, case-control studies, cross-sectional studies, or quasi-experimental approaches with a suitable comparator, for instance individuals who were not exposed to or affected by floods or individuals prior to experiencing a flood. Results: Out of 2306 screened records, ten studies met our eligibility criteria. We included studies that reported the impact of floods on water-borne diseases (n = 1), vector-borne diseases (n = 8) and zoonotic diseases (n = 1). Five of the ten studies assessed the connection between flood exposure and malaria. One of these five evaluated the impact of flood exposure on malaria co-infections. The five non-malaria studies focused on cholera, scabies, taeniasis, Rhodesian sleeping sickness, alphaviruses and flaviviruses. Nine of the ten studies reported significant increases in disease susceptibility after flood exposure. Conclusion: The majority of included studies of the aftermath of floods pointed to an increased risk of infection with cholera, scabies, taeniasis, Rhodesian sleeping sickness, malaria, alphaviruses and flaviviruses. However, long-term health effects, specifically on mental health, non-communicable diseases and pregnancy, remain understudied. Further research is urgently needed to improve our understanding of the health risks associated with floods, which will inform public policies to prevent and reduce flood-related health risks.




Suhr, F., & Steinert, J. I. (2022). Epidemiology of floods in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review of health outcomes. BMC Public Health, 22(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-12584-4

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