Role and effectiveness of telephone hotlines in outbreak response in Africa: A systematic review and meta-Analysis

Noah T. Fongwen, Almighty Nchafack, Hana Rohan, Jason J. Ong, Joseph D. Tucker, Nadine Beckmann, Gwenda Hughes, Rosanna W. Peeling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background In Africa, little is known about the role of telephone hotlines in outbreak response. We systematically reviewed the role and effectiveness of hotlines on outbreak response in Africa. Method We used the Cochrane handbook and searched five databases. The protocol was registered on PROSPERO (CRD42021247141). Medline, Embase, PsycINFO, Global Health and Web of Science were searched from 30 June 2020 to August 2020 for studies on the use of telephone hotlines in outbreak response in Africa published between January 1995 and August 2020. The search was also repeated on 16 September 2022. Data on effectiveness (alerts generated, cases confirmed) were extracted from peer-reviewed studies. Metaanalysis of alerts generated, and proportion of cases confirmed was done using the random effects model. The quality of studies was assessed using the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) tools. The heterogeneity and publication bias were assessed using the Galbraith and funnel plots, respectively. Results Our search yielded 1251 non-duplicate citations that were assessed. 41 full texts were identified, and 21 studies were included in the narrative synthesis, while 12 were included in the meta-Analysis. The hotlines were local (seven studies) or national (three studies). A combination of a local and national hotline was used in one study. The hotlines were set up for unusual respiratory events (one study), polio (one study), Ebola (10 studies), COVID-19 (two studies), malaria (one study), influenza-like illnesses (ILI) (one study) and rift valley fever in livestock (one study). Hotlines were mainly used for outbreak surveillance at the local level. A total of 332,323 alerts were generated, and 67,658 met the case definition, corresponding to an overall pooled proportion of alerts generated(sensitivity) of 38% (95% CI: 24 52%). The sensitivity was 41% (95% CI: 24 59%) for local hotlines and 26%(95% CI:5 47%) for national hotlines. Hotlines were also used for surveillance of rift valley fever in livestock (one study) vaccination promotion (one study), death reporting (five studies), rumour tracking and fighting misinformation (two studies) and community engagement (five studies). The studies were of low to moderate quality with high publication bias and heterogeneity( I2 = 99%). The heterogeneity was not explained by the sample size. Conclusion These data suggest that telephone hotlines can be effective in outbreak disease surveillance in Africa. Further implementation research is needed to scale up telephone hotlines in rural areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0292085
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023

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