04 November 2016 - Since early August 2016, several human cases of Rift Valley fever (RVF), including some deaths, have been notified in Niger (figure 1). According to the field investigations an increased mortality and abortions in small ruminants, cattle and camels have been observed. The impact of this outbreak on public health and animal husbandry of the affected area is considered serious. In addition, the risk of transboundary spread is arising a great concern in international organizations. Given the sever epidemiological situation in Niger, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) prepared a rapid qualitative risk assessment in order to evaluate the impact of this RVF outbreak in Niger and to estimate the risks of a short and medium term spread of the infection to the neighbouring countries. Experts within the FAO and international external experts have been consulted and asked for risk estimations. This rapid risk assessment was based upon the information available until 14th of October 2016.
The preliminary risk assessment report sheds light on a number of critical questions including possible consequences for public and animal health in Niger due to an infection spread as well as risks associated with spread of the RVF outbreak into neighbouring countries.
Key findings of the “Rift Valley Fever in Niger Rapid Risk Assessment Report” depict the current outbreak of RVF in Niger poses a “medium risk” for public health of the country and a “medium-high risk” for animal health. Moreover, the report depicted the likelihood of infection spread into Mali during this vector season has been considered “likely/very likely” whereas a spread into Burkina Faso, Benin, and Nigeria is determined to be less probable between “unlikely” and “as likely as not”. In relation to the probability of future scenarios of RVF spreading into northern African countries (Morocco, Algeria and Libya), the experts considered rather unlike this possibility in the next 3-5 years.
The risk assessment report indicated the presence of significant movement and trade in animals as well as the changes in weather condition could serve as main drivers of epidemic into countries surrounding Niger.
Although this risk assessment has been conducted based on the expertise of a limited number of experts in a very short time, it allows for useful indications about the risks inherent in RVF epidemics in Niger to be inferred and on possible future scenarios in neighbouring countries. Answers derived from the variables used in the estimations in the evaluation process must be carefully taken into account.
Call for action for veterinary services and livestock communities in West Africa
Strengthening the capacity of human and animal health services is critical to establish a sustainable and cross country prevention, detection, and control mechanism to RVF epidemics. However, early recognition of clinical signs of RVF in humans and animals are vital to launching timely operational measures to respond to epidemics.
Finally the implementation of communication campaigns for farmers and the general public was indicated as the most feasible measure for the prevention of infection in humans.
The results of the RVF risk assessment in Niger, despite their limits in scope, are expected to provide valuable lessons for experts in the field to expand epidemic detection and response protocols. FAO call all stakeholders among the livestock sector to mobilize their expertise, resources and experience to make the rapid response campaign against RVF in West Africa a success.