What is CBS?

Many outbreaks begin with a cluster of unwell people or sudden deaths in a community which are not detected early enough by traditional surveillance systems. Often the community members are aware of the health threat, but the people who can mobilize response resources receive this information too late to limit the spread of a disease. By allowing for volunteers from the communities to report on health situations we can ensure that help is provided in the right place at the right time. This is CBS!

Community based surveillance (CBS) is the systematic detection and reporting of events of public health significance within a community by community members. By using feedback from community volunteers, we can collect, analyse and interpret information on local health risks to prevent, identify and respond to disease outbreaks. As early warning of health risks leads to early action and lives saved, community based surveillance can stop disease outbreaks from turning into large scale epidemics and pandemics.

Why is CBS needed?

Public health crises, such as disease outbreaks and famine, most often occur in settings where health systems and public health surveillance are weak. This gap in national surveillance poses a risk to communities, as disease outbreaks can develop undetected. In addition, in an emergency, people’s vulnerabilities to health risks increase, often simultaneously to health services being overwhelmed or put out of function.

The information needed during an outbreak, a humanitarian emergency or in complex environments is often complicated and is required in real-time. Information is needed for a variety of reasons: to monitor and understand health risks, to allocate resources and ensure early and effectively action in dynamic contexts. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement consists of a network of 17 million active volunteers worldwide. By making tools available for these community volunteers to report on disease risk, potential outbreaks can be detected earlier and responses can happen quicker.