Eastern Africa Regional Workshop on epidemio-surveillance policies recommends that countries develop generic surveillance strategies
20 January 2017 - In the recent past, inadequate livestock and animal health policies as well as the low capacity of governments to formulate and implement better policies have received much attention from development partners in Africa. Inadequate policies and institutional frameworks have been identified as major constraints to improved animal industries. Ordinarily, livestock policies that guide decisions on public and private sector resource allocation towards production, health, safety, distribution, and consumption of livestock products are designed by national governments. To achieve the goals and objectives set out in the national livestock policies and to operationalize these policies, specific strategies are being developed, which provide details and guidance on policy instruments and their implementation.
It is undeniable that the public and private veterinary services in Sub-Saharan Africa are not working efficiently enough. In Eastern Africa, Regional Animal Health Networks (RAHNs) have consistently cited that inadequate national epidemio-surveillance systems (ESS) have a negative impact on disease management in the region affecting the overall performance of the public and private veterinary services. The value of a strong and functional ESS lies in early warning on disease/pathogens that enables early detection and response. For a well-functioning ESS a good policy environment supported by appropriate technical capacities and adequate resources is essential.
On 24th-25th November 2016, representatives of four Eastern African countries met in Tanzania to discuss gaps in their national animal health policies, strategies and legal frameworks that directly affect their epidemio-surveillance systems. The regional workshosp brought together Chief Veterinary Officers (CVOs), epidemiologists and policy experts from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia as well as representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) and the African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resource (AU-IBAR) to discuss the shortcomings and gaps of surveillance policies in the region. The workshop was organized by FAO-ECTAD in the context of OSRO/RAF/ 407/USA project entitled “Collaborative International Engagement to Prevent and Mitigate Threats from Especially Dangerous Pathogens in Targeted East African Countries” and funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)
Required interventions at national level
An earlier assessment undertaken by FAO-ECTAD and DTRA has identified two major challenges that require interventions at national levels. Although, the four countries have already developed their national livestock/animal health policies on disease surveillance and established supporting legal frameworks, the policies have not moved forward from drafting stage and the existing legal frameworks lack enforcement mechanisms. In addition to this, none of the four countries have developed their generic surveillance strategies that would be crucial to enhance the operationalization of policies.
The absence of generic surveillance strategies in the Eastern African countries has been attributed to four operational/technical issues. Firstly, only a few disease specific surveillance strategies with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been developed in the region and their implementation level is very low mainly due to poor governance and under-resourced organizational structures. Secondly, none of the countries had implemented a comprehensive animal health information system and if they did so, the problem is due to lack of accurate health status reports of the livestock population. Moreover, organization and coordination instruments for surveillance such as formal agreements (MoUs) between different public and private sector surveillance stakeholders or platforms for stakeholder deliberations are missing and consequently, the coordination of surveillance in decentralized systems is not functioning at its full potential. Finally, there is also a need for identifying the roles of stakeholders in order to increase the participation of the private sector in disease surveillance and development of general surveillance strategies.
Surveillance strategy template to enhance the development of national ESS strategies
Participants of the regional workshop concluded the meeting with a recommendation for FAO-ECTAD to develop a harmonized surveillance strategy template for the Eastern Africa region. The surveillance strategy template would ideally define the objectives of the ESS, its organization structure for coordination and integration of various components and levels of governments, the target diseases and associated standards methods and procedures (SMPs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs), stakeholders and their roles, partnership strategies, data sources (private and public) and mechanisms for collection, effective information flow and feedback, the infrastructure (laboratory and community units), integrated response actions, technical skills and human resource development plans as well as performance indicators and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). The aim of such a strategy template would be to support and provide guidance for the development of national ESS strategy.