The impact of the severe drought in Ethiopia, attributed to El Niño weather conditions, has led to high levels of malnutrition that have, in turn, increased the potential for disease outbreaks. In 2015, Ethiopia faced a scabies outbreak in drought-affected areas where there was a shortage of safe water for drinking and personal hygiene. Following a house-to-house census to assess the prevalence of scabies, a detailed study was conducted looking at the disease burden. Following the outbreak report, training was provided on scabies identification and management for zonal and district health officials from administrative districts affected by the drought (nutritional hot-spot woredas
). The training was cascaded down to the health extension workers in the affected areas. Screening and management guidelines and protocols were also distributed. House-to-house data collection was undertaken by 450 health extension workers (HEWs) to assess the prevalence of scabies. The HEWs used a simplified reporting tool. Subsequently, data were collected and validated in two zones and six woredas
from 474 participants who had been diagnosed with scabies using a standardized questionnaire. This was designed to look at the specificity of the diagnosis of scabies, age distribution, severity, duration of illness, secondary infection and other sociodemographic variables as preparation for mass drug administration (MDA). The HEWs screened 1,125,770 people in the 68 districts in Amhara Region and a total of 379,000 confirmed cases of scabies was identified. The prevalence in the different districts ranged from 2% to 67% and the median was 33.5% [interquartile range (IQR) 19–48%]. 49% of cases were school-aged children. The detailed study of 474 individuals who were recorded as scabies cases revealed that the specificity of the diagnosis of scabies by the HEWs was 98.3%. The mean duration of illness was 5 months (SD of ± 2.8). One third of patients were recorded as having severe illness, 75.1% of cases had affected family members, and 30% of affected children were noted to have secondary bacterial infection. Eleven percent of the students had discontinued school due to scabies or/and drought and 85% of these had secondary bacterial infection. These community-based data serve as reliable proxy indicators for community-based burden assessment of the scabies epidemic. This study will also provide a good basis for advocating the use of a community-level clinical diagnostic scheme for scabies using an algorithm with a simple combination of signs and symptoms in resource-poor settings.
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